Arizona beat Indiana at its own game.
This was always going to be a tough game for IU. The Wildcats are No. 10 in the AP poll for a reason. They are really good.
So it’s not a totally shocking result that the 14th-ranked Hoosiers lost to them. This is not a game that should change IU’s outlook throughout the season.
But without coming completely out of nowhere, it was a bit shocking to see the difference between the teams. Because Arizona beat IU in the areas the Hoosiers typically rely on to win games.
“The game was won in the paint,” said IU head coach Mike Woodson. “They were the best team tonight in the paint.”
Indiana (8-2) is a team built to play through the paint. The Hoosiers yearn for a consistently reliable outside shot, but no matter how that part of the game goes, they know they can give themselves a shot on the inside. That’s largely thanks to All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis.
But Arizona (8-1) neutralized Jackson-Davis with double teams and triple teams. He faced constant pressure every time he touched the ball. Between Oumar Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis, the Wildcats severely limited Jackson-Davis’ impact on the game. He struggled both to get quality shots and find breakout passes.
Jackson-Davis scored 11 points, tied for a season low with the Jackson State game, as he played through injury and played just 19 minutes.
Race Thompson had a solid game, leading IU with 16 points, but that was mostly on outside shooting. He did no better in painting. Malik Reneau looked overmatched in his 14 minutes on the court.
And on the other end, Ballo and Tubelis just bullied IU inside. Yes, some calls went in favor of Arizona, but that’s not why IU lost. They’re the best forwards Indiana has faced so far this season (with Armando Bacot clearly injured when IU beat North Carolina). And IU just couldn’t stop them.
“Their big ones are dominant big ones. They’re good,” Woodson said. “There’s a reason they’re averaging 19 and 20 (points) per game between the two of them. So we had to fight against that. I thought they got the better of our big guys tonight. I just do. We had no answers for them.
Ballo led the nation in field goal percentage (76.92) entering this game. He shot 6 for 9 for 15 points. Tubelis led the Wildcats with 21 points on a 9-of-16 clip. Overall, Arizona scored 42 points in the paint while IU had just 22. That disparity proved the biggest difference in the game.
Rebounding was also a notable disparity. Ballo grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, and Arizona outshot IU 44-34. It’s only the second time this season that the Hoosiers have lost the rebound battle. Arizona’s physics on the inside proved too much for Indiana to overcome.
“It’s (Arizona) a really good team,” Thompson said. “They have great guys. And I think they just beat us a little bit on the glass and it hurt us. If we win the rebound game, I think it’s a much better game and we have a better chance.
Regardless of what’s going on in the paint or on offense in general, Indiana is built on defense and rebounding. If those things aren’t there – even just one of them – IU will have a hard time winning games. IU’s defense was fine against Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights dominated on the glass. IU lost.
On Saturday, Arizona beat IU in all three major components of its winning formula.
“They beat us at our own game,” Thompson said. “We pride ourselves on bouncing the ball and playing defense, and we left too many points tonight.”
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