Arizona basketball: Cats seek cure after LA debacle

Stagnant offense, porous defense led to two losses
2011-02-28T00:00:00Z 2014-07-24T10:00:14Z Arizona basketball: Cats seek cure after LA debacleBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 28, 2011 12:00 am  • 

LOS ANGELES - Like a lot of other college basketball teams, the Arizona Wildcats won't miss the tiny visitors locker room at soon-to-be revamped Pauley Pavilion.

In his last year of coaching the Wildcats, in 2006-07, Lute Olson emerged from it having suffered his third straight Pac-10 loss for the first time in 23 years and his fourth straight loss overall to UCLA.

With half a smile, Olson offered a solution to the problem. "We're gonna stop playing them," he said.

In 2008, interim head coach Kevin O'Neill lit into the Wildcats in the locker room at halftime and Arizona went on to lose so badly, by 22, that a Jordan Hill dunk with five minutes left was greeted with boos and these words from a fan:

"You're only down by a zillion!"

Russ Pennell had no better luck as interim coach the next season, with his Wildcats trailing by 14 at halftime and going on to lose by the biggest margin at UCLA in over a quarter-century.

"They came out ready to play," Pennell said of the Bruins. "We never recovered."

Last season, Sean Miller's Wildcats made easy work of the young, NBA-plundered Bruins in a 77-63 win but things went back to normal Saturday. Arizona suffered its worst loss of the season, 71-49, and the swagger it had been developing was nowhere to be seen in the locker room.

Well, at least it didn't appear that way. The narrow door to the locker room stayed shut for 35 minutes after the game until Miller emerged to do his post-game radio show. Then it shut again, until Kyryl Natyazhko stepped outside, and the door quickly shut behind him.

Having played what Miller called "probably his best game at Arizona," with two points and three rebounds, Natyazhko was the only player UA sent out for post-game interviews.

Natyazhko said a few things and then went back inside the closed locker room.

Four hours later, the Wildcats were also quiet while sitting around a Los Angeles airport terminal not far from ASU players, who were also swept. Meanwhile, the Wildcats were having a quiet evening on Twitter, some of them posting little or nothing, the "we never left" and "top 10" chatter of recent weeks no longer to be found.

The good news for the Wildcats is they finish the regular season in the best possible spot to regain some confidence for the postseason: With home games against the second-division Oregon schools. Here are three things that could help Arizona find that mojo:

Defend the interior

UA forward Derrick Williams tweeted that the UCLA game was the last "with that stuff on my hand. Can't take that anymore."

If Williams really does go with a lesser wrap on his injured right pinkie, that could help his defense in the middle, where Arizona has been particularly porous lately.

Even before last week's attack by UCLA's Reeves Nelson (27 points, 16 rebounds) and USC's Nikola Vucevic (25 points, 12 rebounds) and Alex Stepheson (12, 10), UA encountered Washington's Matthew Bryan-Amaning (24 points, eight rebounds), Cal's Harper Kamp (33 points, 10 rebounds) and even Stanford's Josh Owens (13 points, nine rebounds), all with damaging interior outputs since Williams was hurt last month.

Move the ball

Arizona totaled just nine assists over its two games in Los Angeles, the result of an offense that stagnated against two strong defensive teams.

On Thursday, the Wildcats will face the Pac-10's worst team in field goal-percentage defense during conference games. But Oregon State, known for unconventional zone defenses, is also the same team that prompted 19 UA turn-overs in a 76-75 loss to the Beavers on Jan. 2 in Corvallis, Ore.

When asked Saturday if the Beavers' style poses a particular challenge, Miller said, "Yeah, but no matter who we play … we have to recharge, refocus, be at our best."

Enjoy the friendly confines

Going back to McKale Center, where the Wildcats were willed to an 87-86 victory over Washington on Feb. 19 by a loud "White Out" crowd, could serve as an ideal way to heal their collective ego before they go out on the neutral roads of March.

"We've just got to get better for next two games," Natyazhko said, "and go from there."

Up next

• Who: Oregon State at Arizona

• When: 7 p.m. Thursday

• TV: FSAZ

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)

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