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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Breaking zone defense could be troublesome for Arizona at Washington State

Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Every team needs a zone-buster, a player who, no matter how stagnant the offense, can force an opponent out of that dreaded zone defense with his deadly shooting stroke.

For Arizona, that player wears the number 24, usually sports a pair of Air Jordan XI Cool Greys and happens to be the third-most accurate 3-point shooter in the NCAA.

Senior guard Brendon Lavender has developed into the Wildcats’ zone-buster, and he’ll need to showcase that skill more than ever this Thursday against Washington State and its zone defense.

“They play a tricky zone so we just have to stick to our plan so we can execute,” Lavender said. “We run a certain style of offense and usually it works so we’ll see what happens.”

While that offense includes side-to-side ball movement, flashes to the high post and an occasional screen for an open look, it often ends with a Lavender 3-pointer.

Lavender has torched opposing zones this season when the Wildcats have needed him most. Arizona did, however, have a tough time dealing with Utah’s 2-3 matchup zone on Saturday to the tune of 8-for-24 shooting from the field in the first half.

“They kind of threw us for a loop. I think guys just really didn’t try and key in on what would be open,” forward Solomon Hill said of Utah’s zone. “They just tried to throw different stuff at us.”

But when Kyle Fogg, Nick Johnson and Lavender got hot, the zone was busted. With Arizona trailing 43-33, Lavender drilled a three against the Utes’ zone to cut the lead to seven.

Three possessions later, Lavender nailed another 3-pointer off of a pass by Hill in transition and suddenly, the game was tied and Utah’s zone was no longer effective.

“We were able to find him in open spots in the zone and he was able to get hot and that was the difference in the game,” Hill said of Lavender. “They couldn’t run zone anymore, they started to go more man. He really helped out a lot with that.”

Lavender ended up knocking down four second-half threes and making UA’s zone struggles a distant memory. The senior did the same thing against Oregon State on Jan. 12, when he finished with 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting and 5-for-6 from three in only 19 minutes.

The Beavers employed a 1-3-1 pressure zone that stifled Arizona for most of the game — until Lavender caught fire.

With Arizona trailing 44-39 and just under 13 minutes left, Lavender made his first 3-pointer of the game in transition. Lavender went on to drill four more threes in the half, take Oregon State out of its zone and allow the Wildcats to win in overtime.

“Whenever I get that chance that’s what I want to do,” Lavender said. “Always being that spark off the bench is great.”

He’ll get his chance against the Cougars. Although it hasn’t brought it great success, Washington State runs a 2-3 or 3-2 matchup zone similar to ASU’s defense.

“It’s different for us because we usually play against the zones where they stay in one spot,” Lavender said. “With this one they kind of switch screens, guard you man but they’re in the same zone. It’s tough because you never really have anyone open.”

Despite the differences, the onus is still on Lavender to help Arizona shoot the Cougars out of their zone. If the Oregon State and Utah games are any indication, he should have no problem finding the bottom of the net.

“We’re going to see some zone against Washington State,” Hill said. “It’s about finding (Lavender) in transition to get him started then finding him in some of the seams.”

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