After winning three straight nail-biters, Mark Lyons and company finally came up short in Thursday’s Arizona vs. Oregon matchup. Ducks freshman Dominic Artis led a breakneck offensive pace that formerly-unbeaten Arizona couldn’t quite match in a 70-66 home win for Oregon.
That Arizona’s magic touch at the end of close games would finally fizzle out was pretty much inevitable. The bigger worry for the rest of the Wildcats’ season, though, is the continuing hole in the score sheet where the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class ought to be.
Veterans Mark Lyons, Nick Johnson and Solomon Hill combined for 49 of the ‘Cats’ 66 points on Thursday night. Freshmen Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett—each of whom played at least 17 minutes—managed a grand total of seven points.
The disappearing act isn’t a new one for the highly-touted frosh. Tarczewski played 18 scoreless minutes in the win over San Diego State, while Ashley got one point in 19 minutes a week ago against Colorado.
On the season, none of Arizona’s freshmen has averaged better than Ashley’s lackluster 8.3 points per game. Solid rebounding has kept them on the floor—the trio combined for 11 boards against the Ducks—but at some point, Sean Miller needs to get some meaningful scoring from this group.
So far, Arizona’s offense has come entirely from perimeter players, and that’s a dangerous way to live. Lyons is a deadly crunch-time scorer, but over the course of a 40-minute game, his life will be a lot simpler if he can dump it down into the post for a few easy buckets.
If the Arizona guards didn’t have to do everything themselves, they would also have a better chance to avoid ugly turnover numbers like the eight giveaways Lyons and Johnson totaled in Eugene.
Obviously, the Wildcats managed to win 14 straight games without a major offensive contribution from their big men. They’ll beat plenty of Pac-12 teams whether Tarczewski and company can find the rim with both hands or not.
However, if Arizona wants to turn its magnificent start into a serious shot at the Final Four, it’s time for the freshmen to prove they’re more than just space fillers on the low block. Until they do, Arizona’s offense is playing 4-on-5.
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