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Wichita State used defense to shock Wildcats

Gabe+York+attempts+a+shot+through+Wichita+States+swarming+defense+in+Arizonas+first-round+loss%26nbsp%3Bin+Providence%2C+Rhode+Island+on+Thursday%2C+March+17.
Jesus Barrera

Gabe York attempts a shot through Wichita State’s swarming defense in Arizona’s first-round loss in Providence, Rhode Island on Thursday, March 17.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Arizona head coach Sean Miller harped and pleaded all season long about how his team needed to play better defensively or they wouldn’t go too far in this year’s tournament.

Turns out, he was right.

Arizona ran into a bit of, well, a Shocker, on Thursday night when No. 11 seed Wichita State upset the Wildcats 65-55 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Providence, Rhode Island.

Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet hounded Arizona’s guards all game. Gabe York and Kadeem Allen went a combined 7-of-16 from the field while also accounting for nine of Arizona’s 19 turnovers.

You name it, the Shockers used it. 

They pressured the ball up and down the court, they trapped and they caused mayhem within Arizona’s offense. A Wildcats team that averaged 81 points per game and shot almost 50 percent over the course of the season was held to 55 points, including 19 in the first half, and shot just 42 percent against the Shockers.

Allonzo Trier was held to 10 points and 33 percent shooting. Kaleb Tarczewski and Ryan Anderson were held to single-digit scoring. 

It was all there. The Shockers defense completely took Arizona out of its game.

“They did a nice job defensively in every area,” Arizona head coach Sean Miler said. “When we started to watch them, I could not believe, coming into the game, they forced the fifth most turnovers in the nation. That’s hard to do when you play man-to-man and you don’t press.”

Wichita State even took 11 more shots than Arizona, yet still only scored on 41 percent of them. The Shockers reminded everyone how important defense is. They beat one of the most prolific offenses in the country and didn’t have to change their game in any way.

Defense has been and probably always will be Miller’s staple at Arizona. Even he couldn’t help but admire how tough the Shockers were in that aspect of the game.

Read: Arizona overpowered by swarming Wichita State defense, sees season end in first round of NCAA Tournament.

“Their defense speaks for itself. From the statistics that we looked at, they’re the nation’s number one defensive team and we were that a couple years ago,” Miller said. “To me, it felt like that. They didn’t just make it difficult for Arizona to score on them. They make it difficult for every team that plays against them to score.”

And again, he’s right. Arizona was a force to be reckoned with on defense two years ago, with players like T.J. McConnell, Aaron Gordon and Tarczewski making offense against Arizona a nightmare for other teams.

Defense drove the helm that year as that team made a deep run to the Elite Eight. It drove last year’s team during their run.

Offense couldn’t drive it enough this year.

We had a brief glimpse of what defense did for this team in the Pac-12 Tournament against Colorado, when the Wildcats held the Buffaloes to 25 percent first-half shooting while also racking up 11 blocks in the game.

They never played the entire game that way, but we saw that they had the ability to play tough defense. They jumped on their opponent early and built a quick lead. They took control.This is the point Miller tried to make to his team all season.

Unfortunately, it never panned out that way.

This Arizona was unquestionably different than years past. Going forward, this game will serve as an example as to why Miller brings defense up each and every press conference.

Thursday night was a learning moment for Miller and his group. It comes at a high cost, but they can benefit in the future from watching Wichita State.

Then, maybe they too, will shock the country.


Follow Kyle Hansen on Twitter.


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