Arizona used another of its nine lives on Saturday as it escaped the McKale Center with a 60-57 victory over a Utah team that induced the Cats into a deliberately slow pace of play.
In a game which Arizona was favored by 20 points, the nauseating feeling of another game coming down to the final possession was frustrating to coach Sean Miller.
“I didn’t think our level of play was very good,” said Miller in a stern, no-nonsense tone. “We have a couple of players who are really struggling right now. If you’re tentative, you can be tentative on the bench.”
With the first Pac-12 road series coming up, sluggish play on both sides of the ball could leave Arizona on the other side of a close game.
“Tonight I think we expected to win by 20 because it was Utah,” admitted Kevin Parrom. “Teams are coming in and we have a bull’s eye on our back and we have to understand that.”
The Cats were held to a lowly 36% from the field and three starters – Mark Lyons, Nick Johnson, and Kaleb Tarczewski combined to make just seven of 31 attempts. A double digit edge on the boards and only nine turnovers were among the positives but Arizona never found a groove offensively.
Lyons fell back into the habit of taking contested shots than finding teammates for high percentage looks. In order for the Cats to become an efficient scoring team that can put away teams by halftime, better ball distribution will be a must.
Utah’s slow tempo limited Arizona’s number of good looks,something that evened out the level of talent.
Hill, finished with 19 points including three connects from outside,was quick to point out that “we played at their pace.”
Parrom flatly called the style of play “weird.”
Nonetheless, Arizona came out victorious after its fourth game that came down to the wire in regulation.
“It’s all about the last four minutes of a game,” said Hill. “It’s about us competing when it’s crunch time. We just continued to play hard.”
The question is, will a team with so much potential finally take charge and play like a true top five team for 40 full minutes, not just four?
For now, the lackluster play can be waved off because Arizona is after all a very young team that still has a big round zero in the loss column.
But as Miller remarked, “Freshmen eventually cross a line where they’re no longer freshmen, and just players.”