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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Ari-Zoned out: Wildcats’ struggles against zone-d becoming major issue

Rebecca Noble
Arizona Wildcats guard Rawle Alkins (1) contests Gonzaga Bulldogs center Przemek Karnowski’s (24) shot during Arizona’s 69-62 loss to Gonzaga at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016.

LOS ANGELES — Of all the things Arizona fans have dreaded in season’s past, opponents going to a zone defense to defend the Wildcats, whether it be a two-three, a three-two or a two-one-two, is usually at the top of the list. And so far those frustrations have come to fruition, as it’s already taken its toll on Arizona this season. Tasked with no point guard and erratic 3-point shooting, Arizona’s offense looked more lost than Coldplay.

Last season, with Gabe York hooping it up for Arizona, the Wildcats had a trusted shooter who could bust zones with an open look. This year, freshmen Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons are Arizona’s best 3-point options. The loss of their leading facilitator in Parker Jackson-Cartwright, and leading returning scorer in Allonzo Trier definitely does not help.

Jackson-Cartwright was hitting 26 percent of his 3s in 2016 while Trier hit 36 percent last season, as two of Arizona’s most important returners. With two proven veterans, Markkanen, Alkins, Simmons and Allen do not have to force the issue on offense, but right now they do.

Even dating back to when T.J. McConnell was lacing it up for Arizona, attacking a zone defense has really plagued the Wildcats. Arizona struggled at times even with York, as he was its only consistent shooter.

Arizona’s three best 3-point shooters this season are all freshmen and they’ve looked extremely lost at times, especially against Gonzaga. Besides those three, Arizona only has Kadeem Allen and Dusan Ristic who have not exactly been lighting it up from beyond the 3-point arc. Ristic has yet to attempt a 3-pointer this season though he is capable, while Allen is only hitting 25 percent of his attempts this season.

Arizona is shooting 35 percent from the 3-point line this season, but if you subtract Markkanen’s totals, the numbers decrease substantially. Outside of Markkanen, the rest of Arizona is 25-79 from 3-point land for a clip of under 32 percent.

This season, Arizona saw the zone defense on Nov. 21 when Northern Colorado took on the Wildcats in Mckale Center. Arizona won the game 71-55 but the Wildcats struggled mightily in that game as well. The Wildcats shot under 37 percent in the first half and led only 31-30 before coasting to a 16-point victory.

One of the few positives this may have is that it is showing how Arizona handles adversity this season. If Arizona wants to stay successful, it will have to find a way to succeed without Trier and Jackson-Cartwright. Otherwise, it will be another first weekend exit come NCAA Tournament time.

Markkanen, far and away Arizona’s best shooter only went 4-for-14 for the field and missed all three of his 3-point attempts as the Bulldogs focused on him, at times throwing two or three defenders his way.

“He is a fabulous player, and Sean Miller has done a great job putting him in a lot of actions,” said Gonzaga head coach Mark Few. “We switched our ball screen coverages and shaded our zone to him and we did as well as we could and he still found sound hoops.”

Despite the uncertainty of when his players will return, head coach Sean Miller is still seeing some positive from this situation.

“A lot of times teams suffer through adversity and injuries in February or January,” Miller said. “For us we have really been hit with these things at the beginning so it’s allowing Markkanen and Alkins to have a lot on their plate.”

Arizona fans can only hope that the team learns through this early season adversity and that it will help strengthen the Wildcats in the long run. Figuring out the zone defenses they will face will be the key part if this season wants to go where they want it to.

Follow Ivan Leonard on Twitter.

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