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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona basketball continues to locate identity as season progresses

Alex McIntyre
Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen (10) snags a rebound after a failed shot by Sacred Heart in McKale Center on Friday, Nov. 18. The Wildcats beat the Pioneers 95-65.

Arizona grabbed its 10th win on Saturday after defeating the Texas A&M Aggies. It was another solid performance on both ends for Arizona.

Junior center Dusan Ristic scored 14 points—12 of which came in the paint—and was active in the pick-and-roll game with Arizona’s guards. Arizona continued to improve against the 2-3 zone, and they continued to improve rebounding on both ends. The Wildcats have one out of conference game left before opening up Pac-12 play, and their identity is becoming clear. 

Busting the 2-3 Zone… Arizona might be a perimeter
shooting ball club

After the matchup with Texas A&M, opposing teams should tread lightly coming at the Wildcats with a 2-3 zone defense.

That has been the book on this Wildcats so far with their early season shooting woes but after last week’s shooting performance against the Missouri Tigers, when Arizona when 13-24 from three-point range, they are re-writing the book on how to defend them. Of the seven scholarship players Arizona has available, four of them are comfortable letting it go from deep.

Senior Kadeem Allen is shooting 41 percent (9-22) from deep, freshmen Kobi Simmons (34 percent, 13-38), Rawle Alkins (34 percent, 15-44), and Lauri Markkanen (46 percent, 25-54) and as the season goes on the Wildcats will get at least one other three-point shooter back. Whenever junior Parker Jackson-Cartwright returns Arizona will gain a player who head coach Sean Miller has said is a much better three-point shooter than his statistics from last year and this year have shown. And, if Allonzo Trier returns, the Wildcats receive a player who hit more than 40 three-point shots last season.

Arizona is quickly becoming a “slash-and-kick” operation. Simmons and Allen have learned on the fly how to penetrate the 2-3 zone, something Jackson-Cartwright was excelling at, and it has led to Arizona becoming more of a perimeter shooting ball club.

The theme of this team will always be the trio of freshman, and what Miller said is their “baptism under fire” this season. Look for Arizona to keep shooting it in Pac-12 play, and to keep shooting well. 

Defense and Rebounding still improving

Arizona struggled once again in the interior on both ends against Texas A&M. The Aggies were able to grab 15 offensive rebounds and score 38 points in the paint. As the Wildcats move in to Pac-12 play, teams will attack them in the post and make the big men work.

Texas A&M’s Tyler Davis and Robert Williams ate Markkanen and Ristic alive down low, and the big men in the Pac will only get better. Miller’s system on defense is almost strictly limited to man defense, but he has shown a zone before. While it may be far fetched to think the Wildcats could go to a 2-3 more often, it is a move that would help them rebound the basketball.

As the Wildcats’ identity becomes clear, this team is still built on unknowns as well. It’s the kind of team that could heat up at the end of February when Jackson-Cartwright and (possibly) Trier return to the lineup and have the capability to beat anybody.

Even with the return of those two, it only amplifies what we have seen from the team so far. Trier and Jackson-Cartwright just add more depth.

Arizona being more perimeter-oriented is something for Tucsonans, but it is certainly this Wildcats’ team best chance at winning the Pac-12 and beyond.

Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter.

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