In three games during the Diamond Head Classic, Arizona gave up no greater than 26 percent three-point shooting to each of its opponents.
So what happened this week at McKale? The Wildcats allowed Colorado to make 10 of 15 three pointers in regulation while Utah made 7 of 16 on Saturday.
“The three-point defense again has kind of eroded,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “You give up 17 threes on a weekend and it’s hard to win. It really is. So we’re going to keep working on that and we have to have a couple of players step up and do what they’re supposed to. That’s what this is about, accountability.”
Miller didn’t directly name names but it’s clear he wasn’t happy about the way his inside guys failed to keep Utah’s Jordan Loveridge from hitting 3 of 5 three pointers and Jason Washburn from making his only long range shot.
On Thursday, he also mentioned repeatedly how Colorado’s Sabatino Chen had only made 2 of 23 three-pointers over his two-year Buff career entering Thursday’s game – and then hit 2 of 4 (or 3 of 5 depending on what you think of that replay situation). Colorado’s Askia Booker made 4 of 7 threes, Xavier Johnson was 2 of 4 and Andre Roberson was 2 of 3.
“We have a couple of players who are really struggling right now,” Miller said. “You can’t keep making the same mistakes. You’re not going to play. You know they’re just not. You work as hard as you can, you follow the blueprint and you get in the game and you do it. If you’re tentative, you can be tentative on the bench.
“We have a couple of guys right now who have to step up and defend, play hard, be responsible and do the things we recruited them to do, the things we talk about. Because we’ve crossed the new year. We’ve played 14 games. I know we can do it better. But this weekend 17 threes go in.”
However, it’s clear that Nick Johnson isn’t one of those guys Miller is worried about. Johnson helped keep Utah’s Jarred DuBois to 1 for 7 three-point shooting, including two misses in the final seconds that could have sent the game to overtime.
“Nick Johnson did a great job on him,” Miller said. “Nick didn’t have a great offensive game but he did not let his offense affect his defense and that’s what you want to see in someone like him. That’s what makes him so valuable for us.”
Johnson was just 2 of 9 from the field, while Mark Lyons was 3 of 14 and Grant Jerrett missed all four shots he took. Overall, UA made just 36.2 percent of its field goals and only 7 of 22 (31.8 percent) of its three-pointers.
That bugged Miller, too.
“On offense I really believe it was a tale of two halves,” Miller said. “Although our numbers weren’t great in the first half, I really believe we had some open shots that we missed. We moved the ball well and sometimes that happens.
“In the second half, we took some bad shots and made them.”
Miller said both Colorado and Utah played tough defensively, making matters worse.
“I don’t think we moved the ball quite as well as we can and have done,” Miller said. “Some of it is Utah’s defense is their strength. … and part of it is that three of our five guys weren’t here last year. Everything you go through, you see a guy like Solomon (Hill) and Kevin (Parrom) and to me they’re much more comfortable. They’ve been through this before. Mark, even though he’s older and a good player, this is his first time playing against these styles. I think he’ll get more comfortable as we go on."
Miller continued, discussing Utah’s freshman forward, Jordan Loveridge, who had 17 points on 7-for-14 shooting.
“Freshmen eventually cross a line where they are no longer freshmen, they’re just players," Miller said. "Jordan Loveridge is a heck of a player. It didn’t matter if he was a freshman. We’ve got a couple of guys who have to play better right now and I’m not just pinpointing the freshmen but across the board.”
Added Solomon Hill, “Loveridge got off to a hot start and we had to make adjustments. Their big man, Washburn, got going in the second half and it’s all on defense. We have to help each other out and not go one-on-one.”
Here’s what Miller said about his freshmen:
“Guys have to get better, they really do. Brandon (Ashley) was really aggressive. Anytime you go 5 for 7 with 11 points that’s great. But defensively there’s no question he struggled. Any fan can see that.
“Grant (Jerrett) was outstanding against Colorado. Tonight I thought he had a tough night. Kaleb (Tarczewski) gives you things, size, that you can’t take for granted. (He had) seven offensive rebounds and that’s a lot. But when you look at our second chance points, we had 18 second shots and they had eight. And we had 10 points (off second shots).
“If you get 18 second shots and 10 points, that’s hard to do. You almost have to get an offensive rebound and fall out of bounds. We have to get rebounds and put it back in. We can’t get an offensive rebound and get nothing out of it and I thought that happened five or six times.”
Ashley had seven of his 11 points in the first three minutes from all ranges – a three-pointer, jumper and layup – while taking advantage of good looks when the Wildcats were able to begin the game at a quick pace.
“I came out with energy and I felt like they weren't really pressuring me as much as they did toward the end of the game and in the second half,” Ashley said. “I had a lot of open shots. I was setting screens and when you set screens it’s easier to get open that way. I just had my teammates get me the ball in open spots.”
One game worth watching tonight for UA fans: Oregon will play at Oregon State at 8 p.m. on Fox Sports Net (so even DirecTV folks can catch this one). Arizona will play at Oregon on Thursday and at OSU on Saturday.
Earlier, Colorado will play at ASU at 6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks.
Here’s the official box score.