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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Breaking down the defense

    UA forward Chase Budinger defends OSU guard Josh Tarver during the Wildcats 83-72 win last year in McKale Center. If Arizona hopes to win its 26th straight game against the Beavers in Tucson, Budinger will likely have to carry much of the scoring load with leading scorer Jerryd Bayless injured.
    UA forward Chase Budinger defends OSU guard Josh Tarver during the Wildcats’ 83-72 win last year in McKale Center. If Arizona hopes to win its 26th straight game against the Beavers in Tucson, Budinger will likely have to carry much of the scoring load with leading scorer Jerryd Bayless injured.

    What do the top four teams in the Pacific 10 Conference have in common? Not only do they preach the theory that defense wins, they subscribe to it.

    USC, Stanford, Washington State and UCLA rank 1-4 in field goal percentage defense. Aside from the Cardinal, the other three also rank in the top three in scoring defense and have all swept Arizona this season.

    But what does it take to become a good defensive team? Is it the players, is it the system or is it just flat-out guts?

    “”Is it your identity, is it something not only that you teach but coaches say, ‘Do you emphasize it? Do you work at it?'”” asked WSU head coach Tony Bennett, whose team tops the list in scoring defense and is second in field goal percentage defense, giving up 39.4 percent on field goals.

    In two wins over Arizona, the Cougars held the Wildcats to 39 percent and 42 percent from the field. Meanwhile, the Wildcats, who rank seventh in the Pac-10 in field goal percentage defense, allowed the Cougars to shoot 43 percent and 51 percent.

    “”I look at our league right now and you look at Washington State and what a great defensive team they are and it correlates to them winning, and the same thing with USC, Stanford and right on down the line,”” said UCLA head coach Ben Howland, whose defensive philosophy took the Bruins to the national championship game last year.

    The Bruins held a high-powered Memphis attack to 45 points and 31.5 percent shooting in the Elite Eight, then held Louisiana State to 45 points and 32 percent shooting in the Final Four.

    “”Field goal percentage defense equates to winning,”” Howland said. “”Not only in our league but around the country it’s true.””

    Individual defense

    On the AAU circuit and in many high school gyms, defense isn’t always the priority for star players. Even a good high school defender can have trouble with the adjustment because “”he’s playing against people he’s not going to be playing against in college,”” UA associate head coach Jim Rosborough said.

    But what it comes down to in a man-to-man, or a zone, is stopping the man with the ball.

    “”What a lot of people do against zones is trying to penetrate and bring two people together,”” Rosborough said. “”So the problem in a zone is you still have to guard your guy.””

    Athletes can be molded into defenders, and with some the defensive skills are present but need to be nurtured.

    “”Shot-blockers help, guys who can pressure the ball, great rebounders – all those things are components of a good defensive team,”” said USC head coach Tim Floyd, who has the shot-blocker in Taj Gibson (third in the Pac-10), and four guards pressuring on the perimeter. The Trojans forced Arizona into 17 turnovers in their first meeting, 16 in the second and 22 last year at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

    To be a good defender, Floyd said he looks for guys with the “”ability to defensive rebound and the ability to stay between your guy and the basket, the ability to play without fouling.””

    UA forward Chase Budinger said playing man-to-man defense requires more “”pride.””

    But a good defender doesn’t necessarily have to jump out of the gym, run like a deer or be Stretch Armstrong.

    “”You have to take pride in stopping people, you gotta be tough, you have to fight through screens,”” said UA assistant coach Miles Simon.

    “”You gotta be willing to work and move your feet. Defense takes a lot of effort.””

    Sometimes, good defenders are the guys least expected to be of value on the other end of the floor.

    “”Some of the best defenders I’ve seen are guys that may not be the quickest but they’re smart,”” Rosborough said, noting former Wildcat Luke Walton.

    “”If you have long arms or quick hands and you don’t put in any effort then it does you no good,”” added Simon, whose 1997 Wildcats held Kentucky to 42 percent from the field in the National Championship game.

    Team defense

    The most important aspect of defense beyond personnel, to Floyd, is to have the opportunity to play half court defense.

    In transition, easy baskets come in flurries and even poor shooting teams can be tough to stop.

    USC, UCLA and Washington State all play a half court style and the Cougars did not give up a fast break point to Arizona in either game. But you can win with more than one defensive philosophy.

    “”There’s different ways to do it,”” Bennett said. “”Some people are so athletic and pressure, and just make life miserable, and force you to make plays, and speed you up, and they can just overwhelm you that way with their intensity and their quickness and power.

    “”That’s one style,”” he continued, “”and there’s the style where you’re just a really good containment team, your defense is always set, you don’t get beat, you protect the lane and make them shoot contested outside shots.

    “”That’s what we try to do, be real solid that way and not have too many breakdowns.””

    The Wildcats fall into the athletic category. Opponents’ field goal percentage is one of the key indicators of success, said Rosborough, agreeing with Howland’s assessment.

    “”Our best teams here and our best games this year, we’ve held teams down in the lower 40s (of shooting percentage), maybe in the upper 30s, in our best games,”” he said. “”That’s the whole key.

    “”Rebounding is a good key indicator, turnover is a good key indicator,”” he added, “”but you can survive a lot of that if you’re not letting the other team shoot a good percentage.””

    Some teams rely solely on the zone defense. Jim Boeheim at Syracuse has employed a 2-3 zone and recruits long-armed wings to fit his system.

    Rarely do the Orangemen stray from the zone, and opponents are sometimes puzzled on the code to cracking the defense.

    “”You look at the Syracuses, and even Arizona State with their 1-2-2 zone that’s giving people a lot of trouble,”” Bennett said. “”They just worked at it, they believe in it and they’ve gotten real good at it.””

    But when it comes down to it, no matter the strategy and the abilities of the players, it all comes down to the heart.

    “”Pride – nothing more than pride,”” Rosborough said.

    Teaching Defence

    “”We don’t want people driving middle, we want ball pressure, if they jab step at you, we teach get into the jab step, we teach a lot of things fundamentally, how to cover backdoors, where to deny too, technique on denial, arm out, shoulder in the passing lane, thumb down.””

    Team defense

    “”Vision on ball and man, being in a stance, being helpside or ballside pressuring the ball, jumping to the ball on a pass, being ready to rotate, understanding when to rotate. One of the biggest is to stay in the stance, particularly when you’re offside. If you watch good defensive teams, the guys that are in the offside away from the ball are in a defensive stance and alert. Another one… don’t let guys flash to the ball and contest it.””

    In a man-to-man

    “”If somebody comes in and is just not going to take the individual initiative to stop his guy – that’s why they call it man-to-man, they don’t call it man-to-team – that probably tells you as much as anything right there. You need to do a job on your guy.””

    In a zone

    “”Be able to keep the guy from passing the ball wherever he wants, to have good ball pressure so it doesn’t go inside, to keep him out of the lane, to keep him from penetrating, if he’s a shooter to make sure he’s not getting good shots. Arron Afflalo is a prime example of if you’re in the zone, your job if he’s in your area just don’t let him get shots at all expense.””

    – UA associate head coach Jim Rosborough

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