The last time Arizona gave up as many as 27 turnovers, the Wildcats were rebuilding around Jason Terry and A.J. Bramlett, with the other stars from their 1997 national champions gone.
Their 30 turnovers on Jan. 7, 1999 were the most ever under Lute Olson, and the most since UA had 36 at New Mexico on Dec. 4, 1982, during Ben Lindsey's first and only year as UA head coach.
"We have to give the Cougars a whole lot of credit," Olson said after that game. But "we could have played a whole lot smarter."
In some ways, the same was said Tuesday.
“I’d like to credit Southern Miss but we got into such a rut of bad passes, and catching and dribbling… thank goodness they turned the ball over as well,” Sean Miller said, later adding that “we had some unforced errors.”
The bug even caught guard Nick Johnson, who had just one turnover in UA’s previous three games. Johnson was the top player on the floor, with 23 points, three rebounds, four steals and four assists but had six turnovers.
“Thank you for reminding me,” Johnson said, smiling, when asked about his turnovers. “Can’t be perfect. I’m going to work on that because I’d like to have a few back. I’m just going to go into the next game and try to work on that.”
As a team, Johnson said, the Wildcats “just had a few careless turnovers,” but for good reason.
“I mean, our intentions are good,” Johnson said. “We love to pass the ball, making that one more pass. Maybe sometimes we try to get what isn’t there but that will all get worked out.”
Of course, Miller wasn’t complaining much because the Wildcats found a way to win anyway. They eventually adjusted to what was something of a surprise defense from Southern Miss, which had been pressing out of its zone this season but on Tuesday opted to pack it in.
“They kind of morph into a different shape as you take shape,” Miller said. “It’s not a matchup zone but they have a real identity in how they do it. If you have a guy in the high post they almost guard him man-to-man. If you try to send a cutter through they start to adjust toward him.
“Our second half offense was much better. We had much more movement; we had great action along the baseline.”
“Even though we had turnovers, I don’t think we ever played tight or played to lose in the second half. I thought we played with a lot more confidence. We just turned the ball over like crazy in the first half. We had that deer-in-the-headlights look like, `They’re not supposed to play this way.' And it didn’t feel right to Kaleb (Tarczewski) and in the high post.”
The Wildcats became better in part because Miller, seeing his team flummoxed by Southern Miss’ defense, opted to go with the players who had been through the most. He started Kevin Parrom in the second half and played Brandon Ashley only 18 total minutes, and Grant Jerrett only five. Gabe York didn’t get in the game.
At halftime, Parrom said, “Basically coach looked at the seniors and said, `What do you want to do? Do you want to lose to (Southern Miss) or do you want to come out and play hard?' He wasn’t yelling at us. I think he knew what we had to do especially the seniors. He was fine.
“We knew what we had to do. I’ve been in situations like that. I know. In the second half, you’ve got to play better and put the first half behind you. Solomon and Mark know that, and Nick is a super sophomore, so he knew what we had to do, too. I look at him as an older guy too.”
Tarczewski had a six-inch height advantage over any of the Golden Eagles' starters, but he wasn’t able to use it early because of the defense and his two early fouls.
“It seemed like they were almost in matchup zone,” Tarczewski said. “They were doubling in the post, fronting the post. It was a tough game. But in the second half we knew what we had to do-- move the ball and get it into the post.”
Miller turned to Parrom to help bust the zone, and Parrom finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and two assists, though he did have five turnovers.
“Against the zone, he’s a terrific passer,” Miller said. “When he gets the ball in the high post, he makes people better. He rebounds, he’s physical, he’s been there. Kev’s not a nervous guy. I think wwe all know that. We missed him in these type of moments last year.
"He had plenty of moments like this as a young sophomore (in 2010-11), like tonight. He just has that about him.”
Miller defended Lyons, who has had more turnovers than assists in the past five games. Lyons was 0 for 7 from the field, with two assists and three turnovers on Tuesday.
“I thought that zone affected him,” Miller said. “A couple of his shots didn’t go in. But it wasn’t as if he was trying to play bad or his attitude left him. I think his confidence left him and I haven’t seen that a whole lot.
“But in fairness to Mark Lyons, he’s playing with a new group, it’s the beginning of December, and although there are a lot of similarities from where he came from and where he’s at, there’s a lot of differences because we’re asking him to play the point guard.
“So some of the things he’s learning as an older player, we’re going through that but I have no doubt he’ll continue to get better and better as the season goes on and so will the rest of the guys.”