Arizona’s chances were dwindling.
The No. 13 Wildcats had very little chance to climb out of a 12-point hole with under two minutes to play on their home floor against UCLA, but stranger things have happened. If they were going to even start to mount an improbable comeback that would spare them from a second-consecutive loss, it had to start here with a defensive stop to keep the deficit where it was before trying to chip away at it.
UCLA point guard Aaron Holiday got the ball atop the key and began to back down on Arizona’s Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who offered little resistance as Holiday got closer and closer to the rim, one dribble at a time, until Jackson-Cartwright just gave, falling to the floor. Instead of just shooting it over the fallen Wildcat, Holiday spied Gyorgy Goloman alone in the corner after Arizona star center Deandre Ayton had made a truly half-hearted effort to help his prone teammate. Holiday fired out to the corner, Ayton simply watched and Goloman buried a three-pointer.
The dagger was delivered with such little resistance, summing up the Wildcats’ effort in a night when UCLA dominated play and claimed an 82-74 victory Thursday to bolster their own NCAA tournament resume while leaving Arizona perhaps as big of conundrum as there is in college basketball.
It’s just hard to make sense of Sean Miller’s team.
The Wildcats started the season under extreme duress with federal investigators knocking on their doors and arresting an assistant coach as part of their probe into corruption in college basketball. That was exacerbated by the news Rawlie Alkins would be out with a busted foot and then the disastrous three-game run in the Bahamas.
Then came a nine-game winning streak that was followed by a loss to Colorado which was followed by seven straight wins which have now now followed by losses to Washington in Seattle and the Bruins in Tucson.
It’s hard to keep up with Arizona. It’s even harder to feel confident about the Wildcats with the way they’re playing right now.
UCLA shot 51.6 percent from the floor and 45.8 percent form 3-point range. Six players scored at least nine points. Ayton somehow went just 7 of 19 from the floor despite never finding himself too far from the rim and had a plus-minus of -16. That’s borderline astounding for such a talented and potentially dominant player. On their home floor, Arizona just couldn’t land enough punches to even stagger UCLA. The Wildcats couldn’t muster a single run significant enough to make things interesting.
When things were at their most dire for Arizona, UCLA literally put them on their … let’s say hindparts.
Arizona’s defense is simply bad. They give up two many three-point attempts. They don’t turn people over, yet somehow a defense that isn’t at all aggressive puts opponents on the line at a high rate.
It’s just not a disciplined team on defense, and despite a prodigious scoring attack that is headlined by two of the 10-15 best players in the sport, that’s going to keep them inconsistent and it’s going to keep getting them beat.
Arizona began the season on the shortlist of teams that might be left standing in San Antonio come April, but the Wildcats are falling down on the job.
Even worse, they’re getting knocked over and not looking too eager to get back up.