By the time their first Pac-12 game rolls around (Sunday vs. Arizona State), the Arizona Wildcats will have had nearly two weeks to think about their first non-conference loss in more than three years.
UA opened the season 12-0, including a Maui Invitational championship and an overtime home win over then-No.9 Gonzaga. But its 39-game non-conference winning streak was snapped in its final game before Pac-12 play — a 71-67 loss at unranked UNLV two days before Christmas.
The ‘Cats, who are ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press poll and No. 7 in the USA TODAY Coaches poll, are still positioned nicely for their third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid and possibly their second straight No. 1 seed.
Five-star freshman forward Stanley Johnson has been as good as advertised, leading the team in points (14.5) and rebounds (6.8).
This season’s team looks to have as much depth and talent on defense as last year’s squad, which suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight.
Here’s a closer look at how the Wildcats got to 12-1 heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Sun Devils, by the numbers:
UA has one of the Pac-12’s top point guards in senior T.J. McConnell, whose 6.3 assists and 2.5 steals per game are both second in the conference. But the Wildcats may have found their starting PG of the future in Parker Jackson-Cartwright.
The 5-foot-10 freshman is shooting 51.6 percent from the field and is averaging 2.3 assists in 10.1 minutes per game off the bench (over nine assists per 40 minutes), and he has an outstanding assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 5-to-1.
Led by McConnell, the Wildcats have averaged 8.4 steals in their first 13 games, good for second in the Pac-12 behind Oregon’s 8.8. Arizona averaged 5.9 steals per contest in 2013-14.
The Wildcats enter Pac-12 play as the conference’s highest ranked team, but Utah isn’t far behind. UA will play the Utes, who are ranked No. 10 in the AP poll and No. 12 in the coaches’ poll, in Tucson on Jan. 17 and in Salt Lake City on Feb. 28.
The Wildcats were rolling last season with a 21-0 record and a No. 1 national ranking until then-sophomore forward Brandon Ashley’s season ended with a fluke foot injury.
Ashley, who fittingly wears No. 21, came into the 2014-15 season good to go, and he’s picked up right where he left off. His season averages of 11.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 52.9 percent shooting from the floor are nearly identical to his 2013-14 stats of 11.5, 5.8 and 52.2.
The Wildcats’ 3-point shooting has been better than many expected, as they’ve shot 37.4 percent as a team from beyond the arc thus far, compared to 35.6 percent for the 2013-14 season. Sophomore guard Elliott Pitts leads the ‘Cats with 52 percent shooting from 3-point range, and UA’s highly touted freshman isn’t far behind (see below).
The criticism of Johnson heading into the season was that he wasn’t an outstanding outside shooter — but in UA’s first 13 games, he’s been fantastic from beyond the arc. The freshman hit 43.2 percent of his 3-point attempts in non-conference play, and he’s shooting 47.6 percent from the floor overall.
The Wildcats were dead last in the Pac-12 with a team free-throw percentage of 65.9 last season, largely because freshman forward Aaron Gordon shot an awful 42.2 percent (76-for-180) from the line. With Gordon gone, UA’s overall accuracy from the foul line figured to improve — but so far, that hasn’t been the case.
Arizona’s FT percentage is actually down from last season, as the Wildcats are shooting just 64.9 percent from the stripe. Only one Wildcat, starting junior guard Gabe York (77.4 percent), is shooting better than 68 percent from the line.
Dating back to last season, Arizona rarely allows opponents to score more than 70 points in a game. The Wildcats allowed more than 70 just twice in 2013-14 (both against UCLA), and they’ve only allowed more than 70 once this season — in their loss to the Rebels.