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February 28, 2013

Frustration mounts for Wildcats' seniors

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LOS ANGELES -- Arizona head coach Sean Miller spoke in no uncertain terms Wednesday following his team's 89-78 loss to USC at the Galen Center.

"This is the worst defensive team I've had here," he said.

Harsh words, but hardly off-base after allowing the Trojans to shoot a blistering 61.1 percent from the floor.

USC connected on some low percentage attempts, sure. But largely, Trojans ball handlers were beating Wildcats defenders off the dribble to get into the lane. Rotation was often a step late, and so were hands up to contest shots.

The adage a half-step quicker describes most Trojan possessions.

"So much of that tonight…was individual players couldn't guard their individual assignments," Miller said. "We've lessened our ability to get stops. We've lessened our ability to play hard for 40 minutes."

Forward Eric Wise and his 9-of-12 shooting night summed up the Wildcats' defensive woes.

Mounting frustration is evident. Echoing Miller's blunt assessment, seniors Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom reiterated that effort is lacking in various team facets.

"More than a little frustrating," Hill said. "I'm very frustrated…I probably won't be able to win a Pac-12 championship my last year. I won't be able to do this again, put on another Arizona jersey. So it's more than frustrating."

Miller said this stretch run before the postseason begins March 14 is when UA must "become that team" months of practice and games have built to, which crystallizes the frustration he and his senior leaders showed after the loss.

The root of UA's struggles is no mystery. It's plainly obvious to Parrom.

"Defense," he said with an exasperated shrug. "[The coaches] have been saying it. I've been saying it. Defense."

"There's no effort on defense," Hill elaborated.

For the seniors, this is the last opportunity they have to win a Pacific-12 Conference championship. The Wildcats came into the Galen Center in control of their destiny.

The formula was pretty simple: win out, and win at least a share of the league crown. With Oregon traveling to one of the more difficult places to play in the conference, at Colorado, an outright title was realistic.

Now, even a share of the championship seems like a long shot. The Wildcats move on to a rematch with UCLA.

The Bruins won in McKale Center last month, exploiting the same problem UA has had defending athletic forwards that was its Achilles' heel against the Trojans.

"It's kind of hard to explain to the [underclassmen] what it's like to win a Pac-10 or Pac-12 championship," said Hill, a starter on the program's last conference championship team in 2011. "Celebrating in front of your crowd, having the season set up where you play your last game at home. They don't understand the situation we were in.

"You want everyone to play a certain way, and that just wasn't the case. Me, Mark [Lyons] and Kevin, we understand what it's like to win a conference championship, or to play for a better seed in your conference tournament and March Madness."

Hill understands the situation, and played like it. His 21 points led the Wildcats. He was often the calming influence the UA offense needed, attacking the rim to draw fouls on Trojans big man Omar Oraby.

Parrom also was vital in keeping the Wildcats in the game, scoring 16 points.

But several of the UA underclassmen collectively struggled. Brandon Ashley scored just two points. Kaleb Tarczewski had eight points and a team-high eight rebounds, but was disqualified on the cardinal sin of fouling a jump shooter. Guard Nick Johnson's struggles continued, extending to the defensive end.

Gabe York and Angelo Chol had worked into contributing roles over recent weeks, but both were quickly yanked after various gaffes.

The good news for UA is at has some recent precedent from which to take inspiration. The conference championship-winning Wildcats of 2011 suffered a sweep in Los Angeles, but returned home to roll off two wins and secure the league crown.

"Sometimes lesson like this can really spur a team on. I hope that's the case for us," Miller said.

Kyle KensingKyle Kensing
GOAZCATS.com Staff Writer

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