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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Reinstated Rodgers has become Olson’s greatest defender

    Arizonas Chris Rodgers defends against Californias Ayinde Ubanka during the second half of Arizonas 75-66 loss to Cal on Feb. 16 at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif. Rodgers keyed the Wildcat defense, applying intense pressure to opposing guards and collecting three steals in Arizonas weekend split with Cal and Stanford.
    Arizona’s Chris Rodgers defends against California’s Ayinde Ubanka during the second half of Arizona’s 75-66 loss to Cal on Feb. 16 at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif. Rodgers keyed the Wildcat defense, applying intense pressure to opposing guards and collecting three steals in Arizona’s weekend split with Cal and Stanford.

    When senior guard Chris Rodgers arrived on campus before his freshman season, he had to carve out a niche in order to distinguish himself from the rest of his teammates on the court. For Rodgers, defense was the answer, and as Stanford senior guard Chris Hernandez and other Arizona opponents have found out over the past four years, the answer has created quite a problem.

    “”I’m glad he’s on my team and nobody else’s team,”” freshman forward Marcus Williams said.

    Despite just 25 career starts, Rodgers is only 12 steals away from being in Arizona’s career top 10 in steals. The 6-foot-4 “”walking forced turnover,”” said he receives the most enjoyment from seeing his defense lead to a steal by one of his teammates.

    “”The most beneficial (situation) is if you make it a difficult situation for the player with the ball and your teammate is able to get a steal for a bucket,”” Rodgers said.

    “”That stuff doesn’t show up in the stat book,”” he added. “”I may not get the steal but someone else will, so there’s a lot of forced errors that happen out there, a lot of extra possessions.””

    In Arizona’s 76-72 win at Stanford on Sunday, Rodgers forced Hernandez into five turnovers and clogged the Cardinal’s offensive scheme.

    “”Those numbers were unusual for (Hernandez),”” Arizona head coach Lute Olson said.

    Rodgers’ on-ball defense anchors the rest of the Wildcats pressure man-to-man principles.

    “”He just harasses you out there,”” said Arizona associate head coach Jim Rosborough. “”If it was illegal on the basketball court to harass somebody like that, he would be in jail.””

    With Rodgers in the lineup, the Wildcats are able to play the passing lanes, making it tougher for teams to swing the ball to the open man. A lack of pressure defense at the point of attack forces other defenders to back off, creating better spacing for the offense.

    “”He makes it very difficult for (opponents) to get into their operational zone,”” Rosborough said. “”By that it means if they want to start their offense at 22 feet, they’re out at 27 feet, and they can’t go where they want to go. He’s been good at that his whole career.””

    So what makes Rodgers the “”best on-ball defender”” Olson has ever had?

    “”He’s big, strong, very active with his hands,”” Olson said. “”What he’s doing this year that he didn’t maybe in the past, he would put a lot of pressure, but he’d get reaching fouls here and there where he’d let them off the hook. … You’re not seeing him reach very often now.””

    If it was illegal on the basketball court to harass somebody like that, he would be in jail.

    – Jim Rosborough
    Associate head coach

    Olson said he told Rodgers to pick up whoever was bringing the ball up against Stanford, whether it was Hernandez or freshman point guard Mitch Johnson, or whoever dared to dribble the ball against Rodgers’ ball-hawking defense.

    “”It didn’t make any difference who he’s guarding, they were talking to themselves by the time they got the ball across midcourt,”” Olson said.

    Rodgers said he didn’t become a great defender until he stepped foot on the Arizona campus. In high school, he said his team relied on him to be the offensive juggernaut so he never took defense seriously.

    Since then, he has taken pride in being arguably the country’s best on-ball defender, saying defense is something he “”can have complete control over.””

    “”First of all, I feel like you have to take pride and it has to be something that’s personal to you, to be able to stop the opponent,”” Rodgers said. “”It takes a lot of heart and conditioning to be able to play solid defense. You have to have good anticipation skills.””

    Rodgers, often called a gym rat by teammates and coaches because he’s always at the gym, said he works at his craft in addition to the naturally quick feet and fast reflexes he already possesses.

    Growing up, the native of France said he played soccer frequently, which helped his footwork. He also does jump-roping drills, conditioning drills and other defensive footwork drills.

    “”Soccer is more about foot-eye coordination than basketball, so it’s a little different,”” Rodgers said. “”My offseason training and conditioning gives me an added bonus.””

    Doing homework on opposing players and breaking down their weaknesses gives him yet another advantage when it comes to game time, he said.

    The Wildcats have had other great defenders in the past including former guard Jason Terry, the all-time leader in steals, and current recruiting and basketball operations coordinator Reggie Geary, a former guard who is third on that list. Rodgers said he wants to be his own person and have his own defensive style, but former Oregon State guard Gary Payton is someone he enjoys watching.

    “”Gary Payton is definitely a lockdown dude, but Chris, that’s his game is defense,”” Williams said. “”Regardless if he’s slapping your arm, he gets away with it, and he gets steals.””

    “”He’s the best defender I’ve seen in college so far,”” Williams added.

    If Denzel Washington’s art in “”Man on Fire”” was death, Rodgers art in basketball is defense.

    “”Anybody who plays basketball, if you get scored on it’s a little bit embarrassing,”” Rodgers said. “”It lets your team down.””

    “”I enjoy playing defense, I know it’s going to help the team,”” he added.

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