The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

83° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Commentary: Dunlap’s role overlooked

    UA associate head coach Mike Dunlap talks to players on the mens basketball team during a break in an 83-60 loss at UCLA on Jan. 15.
    UA associate head coach Mike Dunlap talks to players on the men’s basketball team during a break in an 83-60 loss at UCLA on Jan. 15.

    Remember, remember those crazy weeks of November?

    It was a time long ago when disarray and doubt plagued the Arizona men’s basketball program, specifically throughout the shell-shocked coaching staff.

    Amidst Lute Olson’s sudden retirement, baffled fans wondered why the associate head coach didn’t become the interim head coach as would be the assumed natural progression down the coaching line.

    Critics wondered if associate head coach Mike Dunlap was flaky or had his own agenda after presumptively turning down responsibilities that come with the associate head coaching title.

    The next-in-line unknown assistant named Russ Pennell took the reigns. At his initial press conference, UA athletics director Jim Livengood was asked directly if Dunlap had turned down the interim coach position, but Livengood danced around the details, giving a bland political-esque answer about how he approached the coaching staff as a whole.

    The sequence of events may still seem unclear to this day, but heading down the homestretch into March Madness, the interim situation has taken an ideal course in the right direction and overcome a second coaching-adjustment process.

    They’ve passed go, collected $200 and are prepared for Round II of the Pacific 10 Conference schedule.

    Arizona has reached an identity: defense, as in suddenly turning on the heat in the second half to trap and bury its last four opponents.

    Defense, as in using those forced turnovers to string 30-9 and 20-6 runs against Oregon State and Oregon, respectively, over the weekend.

    Defense, as in defending the program’s most coveted streak – 24 consecutive NCAA Tournament berths.

    Defense has become the underlying factor in Arizona’s five-game winning streak through schemes that were built and implemented by Dunlap’s system.

    Dunlap is the chemist-looking little guy with the clipboard on the sidelines – but without the mad-scientist look of former interim head coach Kevin O’Neill, who was brought to Tucson for his own defensive specialties.

    Dunlap is the coach who began the season sitting at the end of Arizona’s bench, just to keep tabs on the entire team. To say the least, Dunlap didn’t come to Arizona for the limelight.

    But limelight came with the interim head-coaching job. Dunlap probably wasn’t the guy best suited to handle grueling media obligations, nor does he have the PR-like personality to reassure players’ parents that their children were not abandoned. Those qualities suddenly became Pennell’s adopted expertise.

    “”What I’ve found out as a head coach: you don’t coach as much as you do when you’re an assistant,”” Pennell said Monday afternoon in his weekly press conference. “”I’m talking about actual hands-on with the players. Mike (Dunlap) and Reggie (Geary) right now, someone’s working on their shot, and I’m here (addressing the media). It’s just different from that standpoint.””

    Instead of a weekly radio show and national attention, Dunlap works behind the scenes in his own basketball laboratory, often described as a defensive mastermind by Pennell.

    It’s a laboratory that actually benefits from Arizona’s last defensive scientist.

    “”Our guys have finally gotten to the point – pressure the ball, use your hands and just be active,”” Pennell said. “”All of the sudden I think it’s clicking because I really think (Kevin O’Neill) was a great man-to-man coach. The basics, the fundamentals were in place. The 1-1-3 we play takes a while to learn. And I think just now we’re starting to reach some of the benefits of it.””

    His 1-1-3 zone defense has taken shape and shown results, giving players a reason to buy into the coach’s philosophies.

    Tighter air space, better on-ball pressure and more effective traps have given the Wildcats an edge recently.

    Currently on a five-game winning streak, the Wildcats are averaging 8.0 steals and 11.0 points more than their overall season scoring average – a stat that can be correlated with defensive lockdowns.

    Specifically, it’s the second half that Arizona turns on the pressure, averaging a +8.8 points per game margin in that half. The Wildcats have scored more than 50 second-half points in the past three weekends: 67 points against Washington, 55 against Houston and 50 against Oregon.

    “”Defense wins games,”” UA forward Jordan Hill said Monday. “”That’s been our main focus point.””

    More to Discover
    Activate Search