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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Hoops’ defense remains big make-or-break factor

    UA forward Jamelle Horne plays trys to swipe the ball in the Wildcats 69-56 win over the San Diego State on Dec. 10 in McKale Center. Defending the 3-point shot has been the biggest factor thus far this season for Arizona.
    UA forward Jamelle Horne plays trys to swipe the ball in the Wildcats’ 69-56 win over the San Diego State on Dec. 10 in McKale Center. Defending the 3-point shot has been the biggest factor thus far this season for Arizona.

    LAS VEGAS – From a team that originally prided itself on offense and was built around two dynamic scoring threats in Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, the Arizona men’s basketball team (7-3) has recently gone through an identity shift.

    Of course, an obvious identity shift was evident with a shuffled roster and coaching staff compared to last season. But in terms of style and specialty, a once-thought offensive-driven team now knows its key to success: Defensive rotations to contest 3-pointers.

    Defending the 3-point shot has been the most significant factor in Arizona’s big wins and losses thus far.

    At times, the Wildcats have shown signs of defensive perfection by locking down on their defenders and completely shutting off the perimeter game.

    Such became the case against then-No. 4 Gonzaga. The Wildcats played a breakout game on the defensive end and only allowed 6-of-20 3-pointers against the Bulldogs. That came one game after posting a similar effort against San Diego State – allowing just 5-of-26 from beyond the arc.

    But on the other end of the spectrum, there’s been glaring instances of inability to guard the perimeter – both times resulting in losses.

    One of their greatest strengths can become the Wildcats’ weakest.

    With solid floor spacing and execution on the penetrate-then-kick offensive plays, Alabama-Birmingham went 13-of-30 from 3-point land, handing Arizona a painful one-point loss, 72-71.

    Again Saturday, UNLV powered by the Wildcats with a 14-for-31 3-point performance, led by guard Wink Adams’ 7-for-12 hot hand.

    “”We didn’t go, ‘OK guys, shoot all the 3s you want,'”” said UA interim head coach Russ Pennell. “”We tried to get out there and get a hand in their face.””

    Added Budinger: “”I think what happened to us was, they came out, they started knocking down some shots and we went into panic mode. We started taking quick shots, thinking that we were going to get back in this game quickly, but ultimately, you can’t think that way. Every four minutes you’ve got to try to cut into the lead.””

    UA associate head coach Mike Dunlap built a unique 1-1-3 defensive hybrid that consists of many man-to-man principles. It remained unseen how long the learning curve would take to conquer, since players were forced to adjust – once again – from a previous season’s different style.

    Last season, former UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill, hired originally for his own defensive specialty, prided himself on his rigid man-to-man style.

    Now, Pennell and Dunlap hold the reigns of their defense dubbed as “”The Claw”” for its aggressive affect.

    Unlike the majority of other basketball programs, Arizona doesn’t play defense conservatively – it can’t afford to. Pennell said he wants an “”offensive defense,”” essentially forcing other teams to make mistakes on the floor, rather than waiting for the mistakes to come to them.

    The high-risk, high-reward style has been successful more times than not, as shown by the seven wins and three losses. However, the double-edged sword of The Claw comes with two big factors: The opponent’s strength from beyond the arc and defensive rotations.

    The double-team traps opened up room around the perimeter, giving UNLV open looks from beyond the arc.

    Their inability to rotate through match ups, combined with Adams’ 25-point performance gave Arizona its first non-one point loss of the season.

    “”We knew they could shoot, we just didn’t rotate quick enough,”” Hill said after the game.

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