There was no magic to be found in a whited out McKale Center.
For once this season, there was no miraculous escape that could allow fans’ imaginations to conquer the hard reality that Arizona doesn’t currently possess the consistency of the top teams in the country.
Facing future lottery pick Shabazz Muhammad and the short on depth but exceptionally talented UCLA Bruins, Arizona’s weaknesses were exposed in an 84-73 loss. No marketing gimmick could hide the fact that the Cats have played uninspired basketball during critical stretches.
Despite UCLA losing Travis Wear and Jordan Adams for much of the game because of injuries, Ben Howland’s squad had no difficulty getting everything they wanted offensively. A quick 21-5 run set the tone and silenced the ready to rock Zona Zoo.
The slow start affected not just the atmosphere but Arizona’s. “It was hard for us to adjust once we got down that big,” said Sean Miller. “To me, we played a style that just isn’t going to work against a team that good. We needed much more poise.”
Even behind 23 points from Nick Johnson and a double-double courtesy of Solomon Hill, the Cats could never climb out of the hole.
Defensively, Arizona allowed UCLA to shoot well – 48% from the field – and the Bruins had a point guard that kept the offense efficient enough to stay in the lead nearly wire to wire.
Larry Drew II may have only shot 2-8 from the field but he dished out nine assists that got teammates like Muhammad and David Wear involved. “He’s the perfect point guard for their team,” said Miller. “He made everyone around him better.”
It was the type of point guard play that Arizona desperately lacked.
In moments where Mark Lyons has usually stepped up this season, the face of adversity, he was unable to come through. The fifth year senior didn’t play any different than he had the first 17 games. And chances are he’ll be just as forceful – for good or bad – the rest of the season.
When asked about Lyons’ play tonight, Miller simply stated, “We needed him to play really well tonight and he didn’t.”
To place the blame of the loss squarely on Lyons shoulders would be as fair as neglecting to remember it was more than just his heroics that led to the final seconds of the Florida and San Diego State victories.
Arizona received zero points from Kaleb Tarczewski and not much more from freshman Grant Jerrett.
And while Brandon Ashley played with an admirable amount of aggression, he failed to make the front end of a crucial trip to the free throw line in the closing minutes.
But the underwhelming play of Arizona’s big three freshmen is nothing routine nor terribly concerning, as they are all still growing.
UCLA walked away from McKale with a double digit victory because Arizona relies so heavily on outside shooting and the scoring of Mark Lyons and on this January Thursday, the shots didn’t fall.
Arizona didn’t get routed in the way Duke did a night before but Miller called the offense nothing but “fool’s gold.”
After falling flat on a high profile, national television matchup, the Cats are no longer fooling anyone about what the team lacks. Arizona now has to make some major tune ups as the Pac-12 season rolls on.