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No. 1 Arizona survives late UCLA rally despite free throw, turnover issues

Jan 9, 2014, 11:49 PM EDT

Arizona v UCLA Getty Images

Nick Johnson finished with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting and Kaleb Tarczewski added 16 and eight boards as No. 1 Arizona survived a furious UCLA comeback, winning 79-75 in Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night.

Johnson’s work wasn’t limited to the offensive end of the floor, either. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard spent a lot of time locking horns with Jordan Adams, UCLA’s leading scorer that finished just 4-for-15 from the floor. He doesn’t get the publicity that some of the other players across the country — or even in his league — get, but Johnson is very much a candidate for first-team all-america.

And Arizona continues to play like arguably the nation’s best team.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some flaws that need to be addressed.

The biggest concern is obviously their free throw shooting. The Wildcats are hitting just 68.1% of their free throws and missed a number of big ones down the stretch that allowed UCLA to erase a 13 point lead in the final ten minutes. Aaron Gordon is the biggest offender, as he’s hitting just 44.9% from the charity stripe, struggling enough that opponents have started fouling him intentionally to make him earn the points.

Turnovers also could end up being a problem down the road. The Wildcats aren’t awful when it comes to protecting the ball, but teams that can force turnovers do force turnovers against Sean Miller’s club. Arizona had 17 on Thursday night.

I’m not concerned about UCLA’s offensive rebounding effort on Thursday night — UCLA had 16 of them — because the Wildcats are one of the nation’s best rebounding teams. I’m not all that worried about their depth, either, because good college teams don’t need to go more than seven deep. And the concern about their perimeter shooting? Johnson, Gordon, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York are all shooting between 36.5% and 43.4% from three. They’ll survive.

But those turnovers and those free throws are issues that Sean Miller will want to address.

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