The Arizona Wildcats were unstoppable at the early juncture of the season. Starting 21-0, the conversations began to swirl around an undefeated season. Not only did Arizona lose their first game against California two weeks ago, but the Wildcats also lost one of their most important players on their team in Brandon Ashley. Now, with the Wildcats not showing their dominance they previously exhibited, the Wildcats will have to win more close and defensive games the rest of the way.
After their 23-point win over Arizona State earlier this year, the Wildcats have failed to score more than 80 points per game in their past six contests. Star freshman Aaron Gordon has failed to pick up the slack without the presence of Ashley in the front court, and although Nick Johnson has played like a player of the year candidate, others will have to step it up in Ashley’s absence.
In their game against the Sun Devils tonight, the Wildcats relied more on their defense than their offense. The Wildcats held the Sun Devils and star scorer Jahii Carson to two first-half points and 21 total first-half points. The Wildcats lost on a controversial non-call late in the second overtime as Carson hung on the rim towards the late stages of the game. Still, in 50 minutes of action, the Wildcats held the Sun Devils to only 69 points.
This game, although a loss, is a perfect example of what Arizona has to do going forward and in the NCAA tournament. When the Wildcats’ offense gets in major dry spells like tonight, the defense has to be good enough to compete against the top teams in the country come tournament time, and they did just that against the Sun Devils.
This game against Arizona State tonight did not decide Arizona’s fate as a number one seed as they are still one of the four best teams in the country, but in the end it did give the Wildcats some more confidence going on the road and playing a quality opponent tough in their own building. Tonight showed that the Wildcats are capable of playing both sides of the ball effectively and are one of the major contenders for the Final Four or even the National Championship game.