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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Defensive scheme carries Arizona past Trojans

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Colin Darland
Colin Darland/Arizona Daily Wildcat

LOS ANGELES – Lacking the size to handle USC Trojan big men Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, the Arizona Wildcats decided to risk defensive-minded Marcus Simmons’ 4.6 point per game average, leave him with open jumpers and double the USC interior with Simmons’ defender, Solomon Hill.

It worked.

The Wildcats’ 67-62 victory held Vucevic and Stepheson to 19 shots combined in Staples Center Friday, giving Arizona (27-6) a ticket to the Pacific 10 Conference Championship game tomorrow.

Simmons went on to score 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting, but for how much he was left wide open, those totals could have been larger.

“”It was more of trying to test his mind,”” Hill said of the defensive strategy. “”He second-guessed (open jumpers) most of the time. He’s usually the primary guy who throws the ball inside.””

With Hill dropping down on Vucevic especially, it kept UA forward Derrick Williams out of foul trouble enough for him to score 20 points and grab six rebounds. The sophomore also hit four clutch free throws down the stretch that kept USC at bay.

The defense kept the ball out of Vucevic’s hands after the center had dealt the Wildcats a 25-point, 12-rebound blow in the Trojans’ 65-57 win in Los Angeles earlier this season. That contest saw Williams struggle with foul trouble and score a year-low eight points, his only single-digit game of his this season.

On Friday, Vucevic finished with 16 points, five assists and 12 rebounds anyway. Stepheson put in eight points and eight rebounds, but Williams said the Wildcats were fine with those totals.

“”(I) just try to front him and limit his catches,”” Williams said of Vucevic. “”If I can just limit his catches, I can limit his points. He was frustrated and stuff like that. I just tried to get into his head a little bit.””

Meanwhile, Simmons, the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, continued to score.

“”I know I’m a defensive player,”” Simmons said. “”They were leaving me open. I can shoot. I was just playing within the offense.””

That came largely from behind the 3-point line. Simmons had only hit eight from long distance this season and had not hit at 3-pointer since Jan. 20 against Stanford. Friday, he went 3-for-4.

“”To Marcus Simmons’ credit, I know he hasn’t made a lot of 3s … that’s what seniors do,”” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “”He was playing with a lot at stake. We wanted to take his defender and really try the best we could to provide extra help.

“”I also think Derrick deserves a lot of credit,”” Miller added. “”To me his individual effort was much better. If we had to do it all over again, I think we’d do the same thing.””

It was a change in strategy from last time the Wildcats faced USC, when Miller used the power forward, usually Jesse Perry, to double-team the Trojans on the interior.

“”This time we still doubled but we had more help,”” Hill said. “”Guys saw it, and we really communicated on the court. Last time we didn’t have that.””

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