The 25th-ranked Arizona Wildcats enter Pac-12 play with two consecutive losses and plenty to do to improve themselves.
They also must worry about Arizona State guard Remy Martin.
The rivals meet Saturday night in a Wildcats home game in Tucson, with the Sun Devils having won both matchups last season, when Martin poured in 58 points with 15 assists and just five turnovers over 78 minutes in those games.
“He’s a terrific player,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “Seems like a great leader. Does it on both ends. We have to do a good job on him.”
The speedy Martin leads the Sun Devils with 17.9 points per game and entered the week as the Pac-12 leader in steals with 2.1 per game.
Miller, whose team lost to now-No. 1 Gonzaga at home and to St. John’s in San Francisco before the Christmas break, identified three areas that have been a focus of practice: Defensive rebounding, too many fouls and avoiding what Miller called “stupid” shots.
“This isn’t a circus act,” he said.
Part of all that might be growing pains for a team led in scoring by three freshmen — post player Zeke Nnaji (16.5 ppg), point guard Nico Mannion (14.6) and wing Josh Green (12.9).
Another emphasis for Arizona (10-3) is getting the ball more to Nnaji, who is shooting 69.6 percent from the field but hasn’t taken more than 10 shots in any of the past seven games. Mannion takes on a lot of scoring responsibility but needs help: He is 12 of 49 from the field in the team’s three losses.
He also might be busy Saturday night trying to check Martin. The junior is a high-volume shooter — 81 of 183, 44.3 percent from the field — and junior college transfer guard Alonzo Verge is, too. He is averaging 24.0 points in the past five games, including a 43-point outburst on 18-of-29 shooting in a loss to Saint Mary’s in Phoenix on Dec. 18.
Martin and Verge are more scorers than shooters, with ASU (9-4) hitting just 30.4 percent from 3-point range this season, although coach Bobby Hurley was encouraged by a 12-of-25 effort in the most recent game, Dec. 28 against Texas Southern.
“We have enough guys that can make that shot. Just for whatever reason, it has not fully developed the way that we had hoped,” Hurley said after that game.
Senior guard Rob Edwards is in a major shooting slump — 0 of 9 on 3-pointers in the past three games. Since draining 9 of 15 in the first two games, he is 11 of 49 (22.4 percent). Freshman guard Jaelen House picked up the slack in the last game, going 5 of 7 from beyond the arc to tie his career-high with 20 points.
“I was just taking good shots, high-quality shots because every time I made a shot, it was off-ball movement,” House said.
Miller said he also is worried about ASU’s defense, which averages 8.9 steals and forces 17.2 turnovers per game.
“With them, it starts with their energy on defense,” Miller said.
“They’re pesky. They’re hard-playing. They are in the passing lanes. They get steals. They get deflections. They get turnovers. And those turnovers fuel easy baskets in transition opportunities. They have a lot of guards that are comfortable playing fast.”
–Field Level Media