2014 Pac-12 Champions

If the Cats want another celebration like this they’ll have to score.
Photo by Wildcat Universe

I was all set to write this with a provocative headline like: Is Arizona’s offense actually better without Brandon Ashley?? Then this last week happened.

The Arizona Wildcats went back to struggling on offense in the two games on the Oregon Trail, losing the momentum from the three previous lopsided contests.

The time for tuning up is over. We are in win-or-go-home season. What is going to be the key for this team now that the postseason is here?

There have been 10 games since Ashley was injured. Four were comfortable UA wins, three were uncomfortable wins and three were losses. Here’s a breakdown of the offensive output for each game over the last five-and-a-half weeks:

(Turn your phone sideways to get a wider view and scroll left or right to see everything. You can also click/tap on the top of any column to sort by it.)

1at Cal206232.3%21118.2%1616100.0%58-2
4at ASU236435.9%41625.0%163053.3%66-3
5at Utah245642.9%51241.7%141973.7%67+4
6at Colo355860.3%81747.1%101952.6%88+27
9at OSU245742.1%71936.8%193063.3%74+5
10at Ore225242.3%21118.2%111957.9%57-7

What do the numbers tell us? If you’re a youth basketball coach you may want to look away… Free throw shooting doesn’t matter to this team. As shaky as the Cats have been from the line it hasn’t directly affected the outcome of games. The worst performance at the line in the last 10 games (53% at Colorado) was a blowout win and the best shooting night at the charity stripe (100% at Cal) was a loss.

It also appears 3-point shooting by itself isn’t a determining factor. It sure is painful when the UA is clanking them from deep like against Oregon but a poor outing from behind the arc (25%) didn’t matter at home against Oregon State and a strong long-distance effort (42%) at Utah didn’t prevent a nailbiter.

Sort the data by field goal percentage then look at the margins. In the last 10 games if the Cats got to 44% they won by double digits. Of the six games below that mark, all were close and half were losses. We’re getting warmer.

Now sort by points. It’s even more clear with all the blowout wins at the bottom and the losses at the top.

Wait, you say, your great discovery is that it’s easier to win when you score more points?!

Yes, it really is that simple. With most teams it’s not that straight-forward. Usually fans are saying things like, “If we can hit 30% of our 3s, and limit turnovers, and prevent second-chance points…” Arizona’s case is unique because of the consistency of its defense. The Wildcats don’t have games where they score plenty but can’t stop anybody. Only one Pac-12 team hit 70 points against the UA this year and that was UCLA 16 games ago.

If Sean Miller’s team gets to 67 points they’re probably going to win. If they get to 75 points the other guy doesn’t have a chance.

It doesn’t matter where the points come from. There doesn’t necessarily have to be a lot of inside/outside balance. If you can’t make threes, get a lot of layups and dunks. If the lane is clogged you’d better hit some triples.

It is very much like the UA’s Desert Swarm football teams of the early ‘90s. The defense is so good you’ll be in every single game. If you don’t score you’ll lose a close one. Score a little and you’ll win a close one. Score a lot and you’ll dominate.

Arizona is obviously a defense-first team and any success the UA has the rest of the way stems from this squad’s aptitude for preventing points. I’m not denying that. The Wildcats are hoping to become the latest heroes of Defense Wins Championships disciples.

But an elite defense won’t be enough to win three, four or six consecutive games. Trying to grind out 62-60 games for four weeks isn’t going to work. It hasn’t worked the last four weeks.

So cheer for the Wildcat defense, applaud the rebounder and give praise for the blocked shot. But hope someone heats up and root like crazy for the ball to go through the hoop.

This is the time of year when nastiness is required. But so are points.

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