Arizona with a another undefeated home weekend against the Pac-12 and have now won 36 home games in a row moving Sean Miller’s home record while at Arizona to an incredible 89-11. They beat the USC Trojans in convincing fashion 87-57 on Thursday and would grind out a 57-47 win over the UCLA Bruins on Saturday night to move to 24-3 on the season.
Here are five things we learned from the Weekend.
Slow Starts: In both games, the Wildcats really struggled to get things going off the opening tip. They played even with last place USC for the first eight minutes and then for both the opening tip and start of the second half, the Wildcats couldn’t even buy a bucket for the first six minutes plus against UCLA. This is not a new issue with this team but you can start look at it from two perspectives. Glass half empty: these shooting slumps can really become the Achilles heel for the Wildcats once post season play rolls around. It is keeping teams in games and it is forcing the team to begin to press and get out of their game. The Wildcats length and athleticism can be over barring. But when they give other teams the confidence to compete, all the advantage they have in those facets go out the window.
The glass half full approach is that this defense still continues to be remarkable. Holding USC to 57 and then UCLA to 47 despite shooting woes at times is not an easy feat, especially the way UCLA is capable of shooting the ball at times. They have now held teams under 80 for 69 of the last 71 games and are averaging a Miller-era best, 7.4 steals per game which is good for second in the conference. The Wildcats D is what will get them to the promised land, but it would sure be a much easier road and who knows what the team could be capable of if the slow starts go away and the offense could follow suit.
Tarczewski Breaks Out: It is safe to say that for much of the 2014-15 season, Junior Kaleb Tarczewski has not been at his best. Miller has made note of it in the media and there have been questions about where the confidence has gone in the Center. On Thursday night against the Trojans, we got a glimpse of what Tarczewski can be on a given night. In the first 12 or so minutes of the game, he was active, aggressive, going hard at the rim for scoring opportunities and for rebounds, he was running the floor and he was a force inside defensively finishing with 15 points and nine boards. He took a little bit of a step back in the UCLA game from an offensive aggressiveness stand point but that was in large part to the zone the Bruins played to take away a post game. He still would have nine rebounds in that game, which is so important to the Wildcats continued dominance on the glass against Pac-12 teams. For a team that is capable to beat you in so many ways, having Tarczewski play with this type of presence down low offensively could allow the Wildcats to really compete well with anyone in the nation.
New York: Since Gabe York came back from injury, it seems we have seen a new side of him. It really started from my perspective in the Oregon game at home and then again in ASU game in Tempe where York is making a much more consorted effort to penetrate and score or dish after getting a defender to close out on him to prevent him from shooting. We all have seen the way he can shoot the lights out of the ball in a game. What we have not seen consistently is this ability to drive and create when teams are aggressively going at him on the outside to prevent a shot. This can make him lethal as a player and because of it, this is the most confidence we have seen out of him since he set foot in Tucson for the first time. Quite frankly, the best the Arizona offense looked in both games, especially in the UCLA game, was when York was on the floor. TJ McConnell can only do so much in scoring and fascinating from the guard position. Adding York to the mix can make Arizona very tough to defend, especially when both are on the floor at the same time.
Resurgent Ristic: After playing very well during the non-conference schedule and for the beginning of the Pac-12 slate, Freshan Dusan Ristic really had hit a lull over the last four games. Against Oregon State and then ASU, he had a combined no points, one rebound, three fouls and two turnovers. The next week, he didn’t play in either game on the road against the Washington schools. This past week against the LA schools, we saw a little more of the Dusan we got to know earlier in the year. In just 15 minutes of play against USC, he had seven points on 3-5 shooting one four rebounds and then on Saturday against the Bruins, had 12 points on 4-4 shooting and 3 rebounds in just 11 minutes of play. That is incredible production off the bench from a big man and in the UCLA game, that production spiked the great late first half run that gave the Wildcats a much needed 32-18 cushion at the break. Like stated about Tarczewski, production from the bigs inside like this can allow the Wildcats to compete with the best and biggest teams the nation has to offer.
In that Number one spot: The Wildcats have a huge road trip ahead of them in really what has become one of the most difficult road trips in the conference over the last few seasons. Playing at Colorado and then at Utah. Arizona has owned the tie-breaker with Utah at the top of the conference standings since blowing them out in Tucson last month but will enter the week a full game up on Utah as the Utes fell to Oregon in Eugene on Sunday night. They have to keep their sights set on the Buffaloes who is struggling of late but always a tough out at home. Then it’s the huge matchup in Salt Lake City where if both teams take care of business earlier in the week, the Wildcats could play to lock up the regular season conference championship once again. It would give them the two game lead plus the out-right tie breaker on Utah with two games to play and the Wildcats returning home to close out the season against the Northern California schools. Utah was humbled by their last meeting against Arizona, you know they are going to be coming for blood this time around.