Wildcats see effort change, hoping results follow - The Explorer: Sports

Wildcats see effort change, hoping results follow

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Posted: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 10:18 am | Updated: 10:20 am, Tue Mar 5, 2013.

Well, it cannot get much worse for Arizona now, right?

The Wildcats lost 74-69 at UCLA on Saturday and will soon lose the No. 11 ranking in front of their name. How significant the drop will wait until later Monday morning, but the team ranked third in the country and looking for more respect at the start of January was humbled with a road sweep in Los Angeles.

Instead of sulk, UA head coach Sean Miller applauded the one thing he has been most critical of for the past week. Unlike Wednesday's loss at USC, Miller said he saw his team play at a "much higher level."

"I'm really proud of our guys' effort," Miller said. "I thought we battled back in the second half.

"It's never good to lose; the objective is to win. But I love the fact that we fought back hard and gave ourselves an opportunity to win."

And this is today's reality for the Wildcats, who are simply trying to retrace their steps right now. As poorly as UA played, there were some bright spots and one specific area that could have changed the result.

While the 'Cats still turn games into adventures they do not have to be, having a chance to tie the game on a 3-pointer with 24 seconds remaining is not so bad when you consider the 16 turnovers. That was the problem, throwing away 16 more opportunities at the basket. In turn, UCLA capitalized with 11 points off turnovers.

"I can live with the effort that we had," UA senior Kevin Parrom said. "I hate losing, but we had effort so I'll take that one."

There are still issues with the defense, which forced just nine turnovers and created a paltry two fastbreak points.

"I thought we played hard," Miller said. "We're still not a very good defensive team if you look at UCLA's numbers. It's not good enough to win."

But the bench may have left Southern California with some confidence. Freshman Grant Jerrett reached double-figure scoring in both games, made 8 of 13 shots and found his 3-point touch. Before Wednesday's game at USC, the 6-10 forward had not scored at least 10 points since Jan. 3 against Colorado.

Against UCLA, Jerrett finished with 14 - one off his career high - and made 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. His last two 3-pointers were the highlight of the late rally that fell short.

"When you see Grant Jerrett do what he did as a freshman, it gives me a lot of hope here down the stretch," Miller said. "We're looking for guys off the bench who can play well. Jordin Mayes also did a great job."

Ah, yes, Mayes.

More than anybody, the junior guard may have restored his own confidence with his performance against the Bruins. Mayes scored seven of his eight points in the opening half and added two assists in his 13 minutes. Counting his 3-pointer at USC, Mayes made 4 of 7 shots - including 2 of 3 from long range - last week.

It also was his second-best scoring output since scoring 10 in the season opener. Yeah, it's been a long road for Mayes, who was playing garbage minutes and was pulled from the rotation in favor of Gabe York after a stretch in which he failed to score in four consecutive games.

But moral victories are just a small step toward a goal that may be too late to attain. The Wildcats have just one more tune-up before the Pac-12 Conference tournament, and a No. 4 seed can be secured with a win over Arizona State.

It is not a regular-season championship, but things could get a little worse without a first-round bye. This is the same team that was tied for the top spot in the league before last Wednesday, but now nothing is for certain with the Wildcats.

Yes, this is reality.

(Editor's Note: Tracy McDannald is the senior editor for GOAZCATS.com. Get all your Wildcats' news at www.goazcats.com.)

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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