UA HOOPS

Arizona basketball: UA task: Cure 2nd-half blues

Ailing 3-point defense should copy blueprint from last win over UW
2013-02-20T00:00:00Z 2014-08-01T11:26:45Z Arizona basketball: UA task: Cure 2nd-half bluesBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

If Arizona can push the rewind button back a few weeks, everything will be just fine for the Wildcats tonight against Washington.

On Jan. 31, in a 57-53 UA win over the Huskies in Seattle, UA guard Nick Johnson and his teammates all but muzzled UW sharpshooter C.J. Wilcox. The Pac-12's sixth-leading scorer in conference games, Wilcox collected 11 points the hard way, shooting just 4 for 16 from the field and hitting only one of the five three-pointers he took.

Collectively, the Huskies were just 3 of 16 overall from three-point range, saving UA from its own offensive inefficiency (35.1 percent shooting and 17 turnovers).

It was a game the Wildcats won with defense and hustle, the kind of game they may need to make a deep postseason run.

The kind of game, really, they haven't had since then.

Washington arrives for the rematch tonight at McKale with the Wildcats on a defensive skid.

Arizona has allowed its past three opponents to shoot 44 percent or more from beyond the arc - especially hurting the Cats in the second half.

Those letdowns have helped make No. 12 Arizona's three-point percentage defense the worst in Pac-12 play, with UA allowing opponents to shoot 37.7 percent collectively in conference games. Overall, Arizona is allowing opponents to shoot 36.3 of their three-pointers, ranking it No. 287 out of 345 Division I teams.

"Our three-point defense is pathetic," UA coach Sean Miller said. "We've dropped significantly over (the past) four games. For a while we were improving and although we'd get off to a slow start, playing a number of young players, we got better as the year went on.

"We've reverted back and it's cost us dearly. … For us to finish strong, both in our five regular season games and to be a good team in March, to where we can advance in both tournaments, you can't be playing with a fire like that because there's too many good teams and players who can change the game on you."

UA had kept opponents under 30 percent from three-point range over the previous two seasons. It was third nationally in 2011-12 by allowing all opponents just 28.5 percent shooting and fifth nationally in 2010-11. The Wildcats were even 50th (31.4 percent) in Miller's first season of 2009-10, when they did not even make the postseason.

"It is pathetic in the sense of how much we've dropped, with the same coaching staff and the same techniques in practice," Hill said. "It's a big dropoff. One thing we were starting to get a name for was (defending at the) three-point line and now we've lost all credibility."

What's also puzzling to Miller is that the Wildcats have lately been a drastically different defensive team in the second half.

The UA coach said he hasn't had a team quite like this one, which kept Cal to 1-for-6 three-point shooting in the first half but allowed the Bears to hit 5 of 7 threes while they rallied for a 77-69 upset win Feb. 10 at McKale.

Arizona also let Colorado make its final five three-pointers in a 71-58 loss at Boulder last Thursday and even Utah went 5 for 8 from three-point range in the second half while giving UA a scare on Sunday in Salt Lake City.

"I'd say it's just a lack of effort" after halftime, Hill said. "You have to stay with the same mental aspect as the first half. Guys have to be as geared to finish the game as to start the game."

Miller suggested there are more reasons.

"All the words that you can come up with," he said. "Concentration, effort, physical toughness, mental toughness. … Especially when we get a lead, we tend to kind of pull off the gas, so to speak, kind of play to the score. And, as we've done that, time and time again you watch that other team start to mount that comeback."

Another alarm is at the foul line: Cal took 10 of its 12 free throws in the second half on Feb. 10, Colorado took 14 of 18 and Utah took 15 of 18 after halftime.

Those numbers also suggest defensive struggles.

"When you're aggressive and together and organized, you don't foul nearly as much," Miller said. The problem is being "out of position, late reacting, not nearly as together, not nearly as organized, and some of it is we sub more in the first half."

Miller said he might substitute slightly more often in the second half, but he said the Wildcats need to play with "more resolve, more concentration" and realize that if they feel fatigue, so does the other team.

That kind of change might be a lot to ask in late February. But Miller is asking anyway.

"Every team at this time of year has those things they're trying to improve on," Miller said. "Some do and others don't. But we're hoping we'll be one of those teams who can."

On StarNet: Watch videos of the latest McKale press conference at azstarnet.com/video

Join your fellow fans in a live chat during the game at live.azstarnet.com

Today

• Who: Washington at No. 12 Arizona

• When: 9 p.m.

• TV: ESPN2

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

Stretched beyond their limits

Arizona's three-point shooting defense over the last three games:

Date Team 1st half 2nd half Game 3pt%

Feb. 10 California 1-6 5-7 46.2

Feb. 14 Colorado 3-8 6-9 52.9

Feb. 17 Utah 2-8 5-8 43.8

Arizona's overall three-point percentage defense under Sean Miller

Season 3pt% allowed Rank

2012-13 36.3 287

2011-12 28.5 3

2010-11 29.3 5

2009-10 31.4 50

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