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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

A defensive state

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Colin Darland
Colin Darland

Arizona has found its identity: defense.

After the Wildcats locked down the Ball State Cardinals in the second half of Wednesday’s game in McKale Center to come back from an 11-point deficit and win 73-63, it became clear that Arizona will be characterized by its defense all season long.

“That’s the trademark of the team now,” said junior forward Solomon Hill, who scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. “We’re a small team. We’re going to have to defend. We’re going to have to box out guys, we’re going to have to rebound more and just lock in defensively.”

Without a superstar to turn to for a big shot, the Wildcats (3-0) have to win games with their defensive intensity and pressure. Although it wasn’t pretty, it proved to be the perfect formula against the Cardinals.

“I told our guys in the locker room that I haven’t had a better feeling about a team than the one I saw in the second half today,” said UA head coach Sean Miller. “Our defense couldn’t have given a better effort.”

The effort wasn’t there in the first half, however, as the Wildcats gave up 38 points and seven 3-pointers to the Cardinals, who took a nine-point lead into the locker room.

But with the Wildcats trailing 44-34, Arizona finally flipped the switch. Kyle Fogg, who led UA with 21 points, drilled a 3-pointer, and from that point on Arizona put on a defensive clinic.

The Cardinals went scoreless for the next 3:50 as Arizona forced two turnovers and Ball State missed all three of its field goal attempts. Freshman Nick Johnson forced a travel in the backcourt as he pressured guard Randy Davis full court. On the very next possession, Fogg pressured Ball State guard Jesse Berry into a five-second violation and all of the momentum was with the Wildcats.

“We went into halftime and made some adjustments,” Johnson said. “I think we just played with more energy, that’s what started everything.”

The Wildcats held the Cardinals to 7-of-20 shooting over the final 16:47 of the game, using its athleticism to chase Ball State off of the 3-point line, where it had so much success in the first half.

The Cardinals made only 2-of-9 triples in the second half, until Jauwan Scaife hit a 3 with seven seconds left and the game out of reach. Arizona’s ability to defend the 3-point line late in the game proved to be the difference.

“We do what we have to do, and one thing we are good at is defending the 3,” Miller said. “It was a dramatic change in the game, as was our ability to limit our turnovers. We had three in the second half, while Ball State had eight. We pressured the ball, and adjusted our man defense and it helped.”

Using a small lineup of Johnson, Fogg, Kevin Parrom, Hill and Jesse Perry, Arizona forced Ball State into eight second-half turnovers after the Cardinals only committed one in the first 20 minutes of play.

“Right now we’re hanging our hat on playing tough defense,” Miller said.

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