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Offensive struggles prove costly for No. 2 Arizona in Tempe

Feb 15, 2014, 1:51 AM EDT

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Without arguably their most versatile offensive threat in sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, it was clear at the time of his season-ending injury that No. 2 Arizona had some important adjustments to make. Ashley’s injury robbed the Wildcats of a player capable of scoring both inside and out, and that personnel hit was something Arizona would need the assistance of multiple players to help account for it.

Losing a player of Ashley’s caliber made Nick Johnson’s role within the Arizona offense even more important. Averaging 15.8 points per game, Johnson’s led the way for the Wildcats for much of this season while shooting 44.6% from the field. However in the aftermath of Ashley’s injury Johnson has struggled offensively, and that remained the case in the Wildcats’ 69-66 double overtime loss at Arizona State on Friday night.

Johnson scored 14 points on 5-for-20 shooting from the field, failing to make a single field goal in either overtime period. Given his ability to score in a variety of ways, something no other Wildcat currently in the rotation can consistently do, Johnson is the player Arizona can’t afford to see go through a shooting slump. Yet over the last four games, Johnson’s shooting 25% from the field and 1-for-18 from beyond the arc.

To be fair Johnson isn’t the only player who’s struggled offensively of late, and against Arizona State the Wildcats shot just 35.9% from the field and 4-for-16 from deep. Finding quality shots proved difficult for much of the night, and the combination of this with poor foul shooting (16-for-30) and an inability to take advantage of 18 offensive rebounds (five second-chance points) eventually caught up to the Wildcats.

Another problem for Arizona on Friday, and it’s one that could prove problematic in the NCAA tournament, is their lack of depth when it comes to offensive production. Arizona’s bench didn’t score a single point against Arizona State, with Gabe York missing all six of his shot attempts and Elliott Pitts going 0-for-2. With Rondae Hollis-Jefferson now in the starting lineup as a result of Ashley’s injury, Arizona needs to get something from its bench in order to be successful and this has to occur consistently.

With the loss of Ashley, Arizona’s margin for error became incredibly small. And if the Wildcats are unable to take advantage of their ability to hit the offensive boards, which was the case against Arizona State, the task of scoring at an efficient rate becomes even more arduous. And if Arizona can’t figure out its offensive issues, the race for the Pac-12 title will end up being wilder than anyone would have imagined just a couple weeks ago.

  1. namriverrat69 - Feb 15, 2014 at 11:39 PM

    I’ve been a Wilcat since 3rd grade in 1956 when my family moved to Tucson. Not to be a second guesser but before the Cal game Sean Miller should have had Aaron Gordon and half the team shooting free throws for at least an hour every day. They have lost both games to free throws and made others way too close because they cannot shoot free throws. This has been a team problem all season. When it comes to free throws, Gordon can’t hit the broad side of a barn and he can only shoot when it is around the rim. He needs to develop a mid range game and learn to shoot free throws before he should even think of turning pro which should be a long way off. He is a liability to the team late in games when he is left on the floor. And this young man has so much untapped talent. You can’t dislike the guy himself but he leaves himself wide open when it comes to the question of his dedication. It is not just Gordon who is missing free throws although he is the absolute worst.

    Tarzewski misses way too many shots around the rim. Arizona is a Jeckyl and Hyde team. You never know which one will show up. The confident team who believe in themselves or the scared team where each player is tentative about putting up shots for fear of missing. The team showed signs of this before Brandon Ashley got hurt. The team confidence has deteriorated since the injury.

    A talented player like Aaron Gordon shows a lack of dedication if he won’t take the time to learn how to shoot the simple free throw. I know it isn’t as easy as it looks during the game when he is out of breath and tired. He is just as tired driving to the basket. Shooting free throws takes skill and concentration. I love Arizona but a player who costs his team games the way Gordon has is a liability and I question his dedication to his teammates and school. He is not a winner yet and he has a long way to go before he becomes one. He may have gotten by on sheer talent in high school but he is now in college and he needs to get down to work.

    The way this team shoots free throws they will be lucky to make the Elite Eight, that means they have to get past the first round which is never a given – especially for Arizona.

    I love my Cats but I wouldn’t be an honest fan if I didn’t call it like I see it, right or wrong. I hope they learn from these loses. GO CATS!

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