No. 2 Arizona tries to regroup, focus on defense

Arizona coach Sean Miller mentioned defense as a concern in every press conference leading up to the start of the Battle 4 Atlantis event on Wednesday.

By the end of the night, his team had a clear picture of why he was making such a big deal of it. The second-ranked Wildcats also had a loss.

Arizona fell 90-84 to North Carolina State to open the three-day tournament at Paradise Island, Bahamas. The Wildcats, who gave up too many easy baskets and allowed Kevin Keatts' Wolfpack to shoot 49.1 percent (27 of 55), move into the consolation bracket to play SMU on Thursday.

SMU, like Arizona, took its first loss Wednesday night. The Mustangs (4-1) fell 61-58 to Northern Iowa.

Arizona (3-1) struggled to slow down N.C. State senior guard Allerik Freeman, who led the Wolfpack (5-0) to the upset win while playing 38 minutes. N.C. State ended the night with 36 points in the paint, and its bench outscored Arizona's reserves 39-6. The Wildcats struggled with their interior defense throughout the game, which was part of their downfall.

"When you talk about Arizona basketball under Sean Miller, the first thing you should think about is gritty team defense," Arizona associate head coach Lorenzo Romar said. "We didn't show that tonight. Early in the game, we didn't. Throughout the game when we managed to come back and even take the lead later, it was because we were getting stops.

"We just didn't do a very good job of that. We scored 84 points, that's enough points to win a college basketball game, but if we're not going to defend better than that, it's going to be a problem."

SMU had a rough first half Wednesday night with 10 turnovers before it cleaned things up to outscore Northern Iowa 35-30 in the second half.

Junior Jarrey Foster led the way for SMU with a career-high 19 points, including three 3-pointers, in 38 minutes. The Mustangs' leading scorer, Shake Milton (19.8 points per game), played all 40 minutes but had a rough night from the field, making only 5 of 19 shots for 14 points in the loss.

Milton can get hot, though -- he is 16 of 41 from beyond the arc, 39.0 percent, this season -- which could be problematic for Arizona if it doesn't fix its defense.

Offense hasn't been an issue for the Wildcats.

Freshman forward Deandre Ayton made his return home to the Bahamas with an impressive night, leading the Wildcats with 27 points and 14 rebounds to go with two steals.

Junior guard Allonzo Trier, who was averaging 30 points going into the Wednesday game, was held scoreless for the first 19 minutes against the Wolfpack. He gave Arizona a brief lead late in the first half and eventually picked up the pace in the second 20 minutes to end the night with 27 points and five rebounds in 37 minutes.

The loss Wednesday marked the earliest defeat for Arizona since a loss to Wisconsin on Nov. 23, 2009, in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Tip for the Thursday game, which will be streamed on ESPN3, is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. ET.

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