Yes, Arizona escaped near defeat over an inferior and substantially undersized Southern Miss team at home. Yes, Arizona had more turnovers (27) than they’ve coughed up in 13 years. Yes, Southern Miss nearly knocked out a top 10 program without their best player, Dwayne Davis, who was not even present at the game due to the flu. Yes, the Wildcats have had better games.
But, was the game really as bad as everyone thinks it was, or did Arizona’s second half play reveal a few things that illustrate why Arizona might be one of the best teams in the country this year? Let us consider…
Going into halftime, Southern Miss was up on Arizona 35-27, shooting 41% from the field and 50% from the three point line. In the second half, however, those numbers changed quite a bit. The Wildcats held the Golden Eagles to just 20 points, 36% from the field and 29% from distance. Most importantly, Arizona’s suffocating D created 17 turnovers in the second half alone. When it mattered most, the Wildcats held firm.
2. Arizona’s Offense
Arizona’s offensive numbers improved in the second half as well, and this wasn’t by accident, but by great coaching. When it became clear the Wildcats were having a bad night shooting from outside, Arizona made a solid adjustment by doing a better job of getting the ball to players where Southern Miss’s effective zone was most vulnerable and gave up too many options for Arizona to exploit (i.e in the paint and at the high post). As a result, the Wildcats were more successful in driving to the hoop and getting higher percentage shots off–Arizona was only able to score in the paint twice in the first half, but scored 9 times in the paint in the second. As a result, Arizona went from shooting 35% in the first half to 54.5% in the second.
3. Arizona’s Depth and Size
What happened to Southern Miss last night is going to happen to a lot of Arizona’s opponents this year. Arizona’s depth and size, though it did not show as obviously in points scored from the field, was a little more significant in this game than most might realize. The Wildcats got to the line for 28 free throw attempts compared to the Golden Eagles’ 6. Southern Miss’s zone defense was effective in part because they could not in fact handle Arizona’s size, sending the Wildcats to the line to miss instead–Arizona was only 9-16 from the free throw line in the first half (56%).
Because of Arizona’s depth and size, however, Southern Miss could not keep up and simply ran out of gas in the second half–their fouls and time on the floor became problematic. Where Tarczewski and Hill were the only players to get into foul trouble for Arizona (each had 3), Southern Miss had one player foul out and four others in trouble by the game’s end. These five foul troubled players not only accounted for 47 of USM’s 55 points, but also accounted for the most minutes as well. As the game wore on, the Golden Eagles’ most productive players could not play as aggressively or with as much energy.
4. Arizona’s Veteran Leadership
Arizona has several freshmen getting considerable playing time this year, but also has a core of seniors who have been down this road plenty times before. When things were not going as smoothly as desired, Arizona’s leaders took matters into their own hands. In the final 12 minutes, with the game on the line, the Wildcats’ seniors (Hill, Parrom and Lyons) accounted for 16 of Arizona’s final 18 points–Parrom was especially clutch, producing 9 of them. During this time span, the seniors were also perfect at the free throw line (6-6). In fact, the Wildcats missed only two free throws the entire second half (10-12), making up for their abysmal free throw performance in the first half.
5. Arizona’s 27 Turnovers
How is this a sign of success, you ask? Because only a team with good defense, good offense, size, depth and leadership can pull off a win after turning the ball over 27 times.