The Arizona Wildcats dropped a dramatic, albeit frustrating, double-overtime game Friday night against their in-state rival Arizona State (19-6, 8-4). Arizona (23-2, 10-2), led by four with less than two minutes to play in double OT, but three huge shots by Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall gave ASU the lead, and a turnover by Arizona on the final possession led to a breakaway dunk and ensuing (premature) storming of the court for Sun Devil faithful.
On the loss-
A loss to ASU in this spot is not entirely surprising. Arizona played well below their average and never really established a rhythm against a desperate team looking to essentially clinch an at-large NCAA tournament berth.
On the other hand, ASU simply made some very difficult shots down the stretch. G Jahii Carson made three circus-type layups in the closing minutes of regulation, and G Jermaine Marshall literally stole a victory from Arizona’s hands with three contested buckets in double overtime. Credit to those guys for making plays when they needed to, and in the end Arizona didn’t play well enough to win a game they probably should have.
On the bench-
Zero bench points for the Wildcats in this one. Yes, zero. The most interesting part about this stat was how little the bench was actually used. The distribution of minutes went as follows: Gabe York 14, Elliot Pitts 5, Jordin Mayes 2, Matt Korcheck 1.
I understand the totals for Korcheck and Pitts, but the Mayes and York totals left me baffled. Mayes was coming off his best game of the season and one would think a spike in playing time would have followed. York, on the other hand, simply has to play more in my opinion. He missed six shots in his abbreviated playing time, but most of them were good looks that he usually knocks down.
You know what you are going to get from Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski. They are a physical, athletic trio that will be able to operate relatively well around the rim against anybody they play. But the real x-factor on this team going forward will be the play of York. If he can play 25 minutes a night and provide 8-10 points, Arizona will have a chance in March. If not, I think it makes Arizona’s margins of error so slim that they have to play almost perfect to beat good teams, an unenviable position for any team.
On Kaleb Tarczewski-
Although he only finished 3-8 shooting, I loved the position Zeus was getting himself into on the offensive end. ASU C Jordan Bachynski was able to alter and disrupt the rhythm of most of Zeus’ post moves, but going forward against smaller and less capable defenders I absolutely expect Zeus to convert 60+% of the shots he had tonight. It is only a matter of time.
On the Wildcat’s mettle-
Although they lost, and although they didn’t play particularly well, I still truly appreciate the fight Arizona shows on a nightly basis. I could feel with each passing possession that offense was going to be difficult to come by, but Zona stayed true to who they are and continued to work and probe for good shots.
It has to be frustrating for them to not play their best in such a heated game, but time after time the Cats were able to answer ASU runs with runs of their own. I still have yet to see any bickering amongst players this year, and that fact alone keeps me optimistic about things moving forward, even with some weaknesses coming to the surface during recent weeks.
On Arizona’s free throw shooting-
What more is there to say at this point? Arizona shot 16-30 (53.3%) in a double overtime loss, making it easy to point out the free throw line as a huge contributing factor to the defeat. This also stands as the only time all year the Cats’ free throw shooting has directly led to a defeat, as when they have struggled in the past they were able to make clutch plays down the stretch to cover up their mistakes.
Again, it goes back to what I was saying about Arizona’s margin for error. With Ashley, the Cats average level of basketball was so good that even when they played mediocre, it would take an above average performance from opponents to beat them.
Now, with Arizona’s ceiling and average watered down a little bit due to injury, they can no longer afford to shoot themselves in the foot from the free throw line, especially seeing as they usually get to the stripe far more than their opponents do.
On Arizona’s in-game adjustments-
One thing I really liked from Arizona was how they seemed to be effectively adapting their style of play throughout the game. Throughout the first 30-ish minutes, Marshall was killing them. However, a late regulation defensive switch neutralized his hot hand and allowed Arizona to climb back into the game.
Also, down the stretch it seemed like Arizona was attacking ASU forwards Jon Gilling and Eric Jacobsen on the offensive end. Arizona had a significant athletic advantage over those two no matter who was matched up with them, and I liked the fact that they were trying to exploit things, although they did not always succeed.
On Arizona going forward-
Although the loss to a rival always stings, all is fine with these guys. They have lost two games both on extremely difficult shots by their opposition, and had many chances to win both of those defeats.
To get where they ultimately want to go, York will need to elevate his level of play, something he is entirely capable of. I hate to see such heavy minutes being logged by the starters especially with the altitude road trip and postseason tourney schedules on the horizon.
Much like last season, it may be beneficial to let bench guys see some more minutes going forward and hope somebody can emerge as a reliable option, because you know what you are going to get form the starting five. Regardless, a loss and a drop in the rankings may be a blessing in disguise for this team, as they will likely be able to play a little looser and look to expand guys roles as they search for another weapon.