WILDCATS

Arizona basketball: Time to get more involved

UA's defensive failings mean Miller will likely use bench more often
2013-01-12T00:00:00Z 2013-01-23T15:16:13Z Arizona basketball: Time to get more involvedBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The Arizona Wildcats woke up a different team Friday, but not in the way ESPN cameras might suggest.

The Wildcats are no longer undefeated after their 70-66 loss at Oregon on Thursday yet it isn't all about dejection and the memory of fending off giddy students who stormed the Matthew Knight Arena floor.

Now, they may become a team that uses more contributors, after coach Sean Miller determined the defense was suffering from overused key players.

Now, they may also be more focused for a game tonight at Oregon State, where they have not won since 2008-09.

Now, they may do things such as guard three-pointers better, pressure the ball defensively and take care of it offensively.

Things that, all of a sudden, they know can translate to a loss.

On Thursday, for example, Arizona allowed Oregon to shoot 56.7 percent from the field in the first half and make 7 of 11 three-pointers for the game while UA turned the ball over 14 times.

They are numbers the Wildcats simply can't stand for if they want to challenge for a Pac-12 title.

"This is the first loss we've ever gone through as a team and it feels different," Miller said Friday, after the Wildcats practiced at Gill Coliseum. "All of a sudden things aren't OK, and I think some of the things we've been harping on, it gives you a lot of credence and credibility, when you have to face a loss."

Besides, UA senior Solomon Hill said it never really felt like the Wildcats were undefeated, with their big wins going down to the final seconds, and certainly not after that controversial call against Colorado's would-be game-winner last week at McKale Center.

The Wildcats knew, guard Nick Johnson added, that there was an element of fate that would sometime turn the other direction.

Being "14-0 was great but we knew we weren't going to go undefeated," Johnson said. "We want to win every game that we can. But we know some nights are just not our night."

Especially if they can't defend. Johnson said the Wildcats had to shore up their defense, which has turned from a strength in the nonconference season to a weakness over three Pac-12 games.

The Wildcats held their 12 nonconference opponents to just 38.9 percent shooting but are giving up 46.3 percent in conference play.

More unsettling is the fact that while the Wildcats held Pac-12 opponents to an average of 4.3 three-pointers at a 28.1 percent rate last season, conference teams are averaging eight made threes at a 50 percent rate so far this season.

"That's alarming," Miller said. "It's amazing that we're 2-1 with those numbers."

Saying it is "overwhelming how our defense has slipped," Miller placed a big part of the blame on fatigue. So starting tonight, he said he plans to reduce minutes to several key players and increase those for reserves such as Jordin Mayes and Angelo Chol.

Miller used just eight players on Thursday, and gave Solomon Hill, Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson 35 or more minutes each.

He said Friday he now wants Hill's minutes in the 32-34 range, for example.

"One thing we've always done is subbed and all of a sudden when guys are playing 35 minutes a game, it's amazing how their effort level can come and go," Miller said. "And how in practice, all of a sudden they save their energy for the games, and the guys who aren't playing as much all of a sudden don't quite practice as hard.

"The next thing you know, you're off track."

Miller acknowledged part of why he hasn't gone deeper in his rotation is a hesitance to insert lesser-trusted subs in games that are constantly being decided by a basket. But he also said that giving key players an extra four minutes off can go a long way in the long run toward keeping the defense fresher and more effective.

"You'd be surprised how four minutes feels like a lifetime for a player," Miller said. "We have to use our bench but they have to come in and help us. It's not about scoring points as much as keeping the high intensity and energy up."

It could help the Wildcats tonight that they will be facing a team that is shorthanded up front. Oregon State lost forward Eric Moreland indefinitely because of an unspecified violation of team rules Thursday, and Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said Friday that Moreland also would not play today.

Already the Beavers are without forward Angus Brandt, who was lost for the season with a knee injury after four games, costing OSU a leader and a 30-minute contributor.

But the Beavers also have the knowledge that they have beaten UA at Gill Coliseum twice in a row, and took the Wildcats to overtime at McKale Center last season before losing.

"I think any kind of history like that helps out from a mental and emotional standpoint," Robinson said. "But when you're fully staffed, you feel you have a fighter's chance."

On StarNet: Join Bruce Pascoe at noon Monday for a live chat Q and A on Arizona basketball live.azstarnet.com

Today

• What: No. 4 Arizona at Oregon St.

• When: 6 p.m.

• TV: ESPNU

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

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