Sean Miller

“Help yourself to an early lead.”
Photo by Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE

It’s been an all-too-familiar scene for the Arizona Wildcats this season. The opposing team jumps out to an early lead and their bench celebrates. Sean Miller calls time out and the Cats slink over for a stern talking-to.

Why does this keep happening? How can the UA fix it? The numbers may show us the answer.

Here’s a statistical breakdown of Arizona’s four worst starts so far this year. Not surprisingly, they include three of the team’s four losses.

The first two rows are Arizona’s shooting percentages; the next two are the opponent’s. The fifth row is the UA’s turnover numbers and the final row lists Arizona’s rebounding total first, then the other team’s.

Opponent: Mississippi State
Early Deficit: 7-0
Elapsed Time: 2 minutes
Result: Lost by 10

Vs. Miss. St. Start Rest of Game
2-point % 0-2 (0%) 17-35 (49%)
3-point % 0-1 (0%) 6-19 (32%)
Opp. 2-pt % 2-2 (100%) 20-39 (51%)
Opp. 3-pt % 1-2 (50%) 3-14 (21%)
Turnovers 0 10
Rebound Diff. 0-4 (-4) 34-34 (even)

– – –

Opponent: San Diego State
Early Deficit: 21-4
Elapsed Time: 7 minutes
Result: Lost by 4

Vs. San Diego St. Start Rest of Game
2-point % 1-5 (20%) 13-26 (50%)
3-point % 0-4 (0%) 5-22 (23%)
Opp. 2-pt % 4-6 (67%) 12-35 (34%)
Opp. 3-pt % 4-4 (100%) 4-8 (50%)
Turnovers 1 12
Rebound Diff. 2-9 (-7) 38-27 (+11)

– – –

Opponent: New Mexico State
Early Deficit: 10-2
Elapsed Time: 2.5 minutes
Result: Won by 7

Vs. New Mex. St. Start Rest of Game
2-point % 1-2 (50%) 20-35 (57%)
3-point % 0-1 (0%) 9-20 (45%)
Opp. 2-pt % 1-2 (50%) 23-50 (46%)
Opp. 3-pt % 2-2 (100%) 2-19 (11%)
Turnovers 1 10
Rebound Diff. 0-3 (-3) 38-38 (even)

– – –

Opponent: Gonzaga
Early Deficit: 14-0
Elapsed Time: 5.5 minutes
Result: Lost by 11

Vs. Gonzaga Start Rest of Game
2-point % 0-5 (0%) 17-31 (55%)
3-point % 0-2 (0%) 6-18 (33%)
Opp. 2-pt % 5-8 (63%) 16-28 (57%)
Opp. 3-pt % 1-3 (33%) 2-17 (12%)
Turnovers 2 6
Rebound Diff. 2-8 (-6) 24-32 (-8)

– – –

I expected turnovers to be more of a factor but rebounding is clearly the bigger issue. It’s easy to point to the Gonzaga game and say, “See? Arizona is just too small,” but in the other three games the Cats were even or better on the glass once the initial run was over.

If you can match rebounds with Mississippi State for 38 minutes there’s no excuse for allowing them to grab every board in the first couple minutes. If you can dominate SDSU on the glass over the final 33 minutes there’s no reason to post a -7 rebounding margin immediately after the opening tip.

The rules are designed to protect the player who has inside rebounding position. Getting position, especially on defense, is all about effort and focus.

An ugly pattern is evident on the offensive side as well. In the last three games with slow starts the Cats shot a combined 0-for-7 from behind the 3-point line to start the game. Solomon Hill missed five of those seven shots. If the worst shooter in your starting lineup is taking the most outside shots to start the game you’re not just digging your own grave you’re providing the shovel.

Obviously the game of basketball isn’t played out of a box score but trends are trends. If certain lineups aren’t doing what it takes to control the defensive glass then changes have to be made. If certain players are taking bad shots – or if the current sets aren’t getting the ball to the best shooters – then offensive strategies need to be adjusted.

Better starts would go a long way toward producing better finishes.

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Scott Terrell has not yet begun to start. End up on Twitter and Facebook.