It's been a heartpounding campaign to say the least, and now, nearly 20 games and two-thirds of the way through the season, perhaps the only thing one can say with certainty, is that Arizona is more unpredictable now than at the beginning of the year.
I suspect we expected it, given the team's makeup, but probably not to this degree.
While the UA coaching staff continues to search for answers to the team's seeming disinterest early in games, I would argue the issue a different stance. I suggest it's not that Arizona comes out disinterested, but that very simply, it just doesn't play good defense. And as a result, the early-game tempo is dictated for them. The opposition has learned that this Lute Olson team is like few others in one critical facet. For the most part, it just doesn't play good defense. I don't think I'm going out on a limb here. The numbers bear it out.
Triple-digit efforts from Oregon, Kansas and UConn.
The most points given up by a Wildcat team in the Olson era.
Oregon State shot 76 percent from the floor in the first half at McKale, and nearly 61 percent for the game.
ASU shot 56 percent last week. Etc., etc., etc.
If you scout Arizona in 02, basically you tell your team to show patience and make passes on the offensive end, and eventually the UA will have a breakdown and give you a good look, generally from the perimeter. And when the open outside shot starts to fall, then you can drive the lane with regularity.
There are probably a number of reasons for Arizona's defensive lapses, and certainly the top of the list is youth. As we all know, this remains a work in progress, and that has become most apparent on the defensive end. As experience and understanding take hold, so too will the UA's efforts in that regard.
But I suspect there are other issues as well, and they are of a more physical nature. In the backcourt, the Wildcats go 6-foot, 5-10 and 5-9. While quick, they aren't tall, obviously, nor lanky, like members of last year's perimeter, and as a result, teams with taller players can get pretty good looks from the outside.
Additionally, Arizona isn't particularly athletic at the wing spots. For all his attributes, Luke Walton is not the most physically gifted performer at his position. Additionally, Rick Anderson has definitive issues with foot speed. And on the interior, the UA lacks an enforcer who even approaches the caliber of Gene Edgerson or Michael Wright. I believe the Wildcat defense inside continues to adjust to the rigors of Division I college ball.
In short, it's not a good combination for positive results.
So what to do? That's a loaded question, for Arizona, by virtue of its lack of depth, suffers from significant limitations. But one option might be bringing Anderson off the bench in favor of a small, but quick, three-guard lineup.
Freshman Will Bynum appears to be coming into his own, and Salim Stoudamire has shown solid defense against some tough offensive weapons. Point guard Jason Gardner is certainly tenacious.
If Arizona is looking for a quick start, putting the fastest players on the floor might be worth consideration. Additionally, Anderson, with his propensity for scoring points in bunches, might provide better spark off the bench.
Certainly, it's not a full-proof concept. With this approach, Arizona places itself in a height disadvantage every time it takes the floor, thus putting more pressure on Walton, and likely Channing Frye, to hold their own on the glass. But it could act as a spark-plug to Arizona's sluggish onsets, and it might allow Anderson is focus in quick bursts, as opposed to lengthy periods on the floor.
Simply something to ponder as Arizona prepares for a monster road swing in the Bay Area, where it probably must procure at least a split to regain some confidence in stay in the wacky Pac-10 race.