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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Houston plays Suns’ fast-paced style

    It won’t exactly be Phoenix Suns basketball, but it may feel like it for the Arizona men’s basketball team when it faces Houston Sunday.

    Much of that precision comes thanks to a trip UH head coach Tom Penders took in October to Suns training camp in Treviso, Italy. Penders, who has studied Phoenix’s system and tries to run some of the same sets, picked the brain of the Phoenix coaching staff during the week.

    “”It was probably one of the most rewarding and satisfying things I’ve done as a coach,”” Penders said in a phone interview Friday. “”I learned a lot. It was kind of like going to graduate school.””

    After averaging 72.4 points per game last season, not even among the nation’s top 75 Division I teams, Houston ranks second in team scoring through Dec. 10 at 91.7 ppg. That’s thanks to an offensive philosophy similar to the Suns that involves pushing the pace, taking good shots as soon as they become available and not being afraid to shoot the 3-point shot, as over 40 percent of the Cougars’ shots come from that distance.

    “”(Suns head coach) Mike (D’Antoni)’s philosophy and mine are very similar and (UA head) coach (Lute Olson)’s the same,”” Penders said. “”Why wait for five seconds to be left on the shot clock when you can get a good one five seconds into the shot clock? I think shots become harder to find later in the shot clock.””

    Said Olson, “”More often than not it’s one pass and the ball is in the air, so it’s not a case of doing a whole lot with them.””

    Earlier in the season Olson mentioned wanting Arizona to play with a fast, Suns-like pace as well, so typically the Wildcats are the squad that pushes the pace, leading to an average of 86.6 ppg (ninth nationally).

    Against a squad Olson called “”far and away”” Arizona’s most athletic opponent to date, the pace the Cougars prefer won’t necessarily play into his squad’s hands.

    “”If they’re not making them (it will),”” Olson said. “”The problem is they’ve been shooting really well. I don’t think it’s going to be a case where we want to chase them up and down the court. They like to play at break-neck speed the whole time.””

    Penders said he’s not worried about any potential advantage that playing up-tempo will give the Wildcats since that’s the way his squad plays.

    “”I think it creates an exciting game,”” he said. “”It might not be a classic defensive struggle, but who wants to see that anyways?””

    With Houston playing a run-and-gun style similar to the Suns, it’ll be helped by the addition of Dion Dowell, a transfer from Texas who was cleared to play Friday for his first time as a Cougar.

    UA assistant coach Josh Pastner said Arizona tried to get Dowell after he announced his intentions to leave Texas. Penders expects the 6-foot-7 athletic forward to be his squad’s Shawn Marion, calling him the team’s best all-around player with a game like the Suns’ two-time All-Star.

    “”We expect him to be our best player,”” Penders said. “”I’m not saying he’s as good of a player, but he’ll remind a lot of people of Shawn. He can guard a guard, he can guard a forward, he can play guard, forward, center, give us some versatility. (Still) I’d rather be trying him out in a different environment against a weaker team.””

    Dowell will have help from the man who destroyed the Wildcats last year in senior Oliver Lafayette. The guard torched Arizona for 28 points and hit seven 3-pointers last season in Houston’s win.

    In that contest then-UA senior guards Hassan Adams and Chris Rodgers were benched for showing up late to a team meal, allowing Lafayette to get off to a quick start.

    “”He’s a great shooter if you let him get going, but no disrespect to him anybody can shoot well if you don’t have a hand in your face and are wide open,”” said guard Jawann McClellan, “”so hopefully we can just do a better job of containing him.””

    Penders described Lafayette as a streaky shooter who shoots better from 3-point range than from inside the arc. He also said Lafayette is the squad’s best defensive player and a ball hawk, averaging 3.17 steals per game, which ranks 10th nationally through Dec. 10.

    Penders, in his third year at Houston, has rebuilt the program through transfers. Ten Cougars played junior college ball and another three transferred from another university before coming to Houston, although Penders signed only one transfer in his 2007-08 class.

    In his first 17 years as a head coach, Penders said he never brought in a junior college player, but after being exposed to JUCO basketball in Texas while coaching the Longhorns, he now looks for junior college players who have done well in school and are not “”head cases”” and has had luck going that route.

    “”There’s a lot of ways to rebuilding the program,”” he said. “”It all depends on what program you’re taking over.””

    Junior college transfer Robert McKiver leads the squad in scoring at 24.3 ppg and after Lafayette (19.2), the next leading scorers are JUCO transfers Marcus Malone (14.7) and Robert Lee (13.2).

    But scoring isn’t the issue for Penders’ squad, which allows 79.5 points per contest. It’s a defense that he calls a work in progress as he integrates the transfers into a cohesive unit on that end of the floor.

    After spending training camp with D’Antoni and the Suns this season and getting results, Penders could be in for another trip next October to help make the Cougars better at the other end.

    “”Now I need to find a defensive coach to go follow,”” he said.

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