Arizona basketball: Going smaller for bigger results

2011-12-29T00:00:00Z 2014-07-24T10:34:51Z Arizona basketball: Going smaller for bigger resultsBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 29, 2011 12:00 am  • 

As his Arizona Wildcats enter Pac-12 play this weekend, coach Sean Miller isn't just committed to the relatively new idea of a smaller lineup.

He also has his foot firmly on the accelerator.

The Wildcats have averaged 73.7 points a game since Miller inserted Nick Johnson into the starting lineup at shooting guard and moved 6-foot-7-inch Jesse Perry to center, during UA's Nov. 29 win at New Mexico State.

While pushing the ball - and playing against teams who also do - UA scored 72 points and nearly knocked off Florida in overtime on Dec. 7 and thrived against Oakland's normally breakneck offense on Dec. 20, winning 85-73.

"The thing that I really know through 13 games, playing against a lot of different styles, is that we're better when we have a good pace to what we do," Miller said. "Halfcourt, grind-it-out basketball is not what we want to do."

That decision was firmly sealed Dec. 17, when the Wildcats struggled to a 14-0 deficit and an eventual 71-60 loss against Gonzaga when they simply couldn't get out ahead of the Zags' big men.

"I think we just looked at everything when we got to practice, just how slow our pace has been, as far as our games in the past," Perry said after UA lost to Gonzaga and beat Oakland. "We wanted to be a more up-tempo team. And playing against Oakland was a great example of how they pushed the ball and we tried to push it right back at them."

"Getting up more shots is better for our team. Scoring more is better for our team; it gets a lot of guys involved. We're just a better team overall."

Although, the Wildcats won't always be able to run free in the Pac-12, with some opponents likely to slow it down, Miller said UA can tweak some things defensively to help force the pace, including using a press more often after made free throws or dead balls.

Here are five reasons why Arizona will try to keep it moving in conference play:

It will free up the big men.

As the de-facto "center," Perry routinely gives up 3 to 5 inches to the man he is guarding, creating rebounding and defensive issues even though he has managed to average 11.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

At power forward, 6-6 Solomon Hill doesn't always have big matchup problems, but Gonzaga threw UA for a loop when it decided to guard him with 7-footer Robert Sacre - creating a problem that wouldn't likely happen in an up-tempo game.

"We have to be consistent in playing fast and not necessarily shooting quick but having a pace to how we play," Miller said. "Anything we can do to make that happen is to our team's advantage. Gonzaga was the last lesson needed for that. I think everyone felt that having Sacre be able to guard Solomon - one of the ways that doesn't happen is if the ball is moving up and down the court. It makes a difference for that to take place."

The point guards may be mature enough to handle it.

One look at a Josiah Turner-to-Nick Johnson fast-break alley-oop and you know the two freshmen are comfortable in the open court. But Turner, as much as he can push it, is only starting to show signs he is maturing into the point guard Miller is seeking on and off the court.

"Josiah has a way of pushing the ball and as he pushes it fast, he has to make good decisions," Miller said. "He's learning the college game and learning better decisions as he goes on."

Likewise, Miller is looking for starting point guard Jordin Mayes and the rest of the Wildcats to run with some control. So far, the signs are encouraging: UA has averaged 11.4 turnovers in its past seven games while averaging 13.5 over the first six despite running more.

"One of the things that you notice, and Jordin did a great job as well (against Bryant), we had a faster pace," Miller said. "Point guards control the pace. Everyone has to run, but I've yet to see a point guard go 100 miles an hour and everyone else around him go 60."

The shooters are better off.

Johnson's thundering dunks aren't the only thing that springs from the UA offense when it hums at a faster pace. You may recall that Brendon Lavender hit 6 of 8 three-pointers over 11 minutes against Bryant, getting many of his open looks on the break.

Lavender is now shooting 57.7 percent from three-point range, and if he's more comfortable on the run, you can bet UA will try to be on the run for him.

"You can see that a lot of his opportunities came in transition," Miller said. "It's not as easy to play fast as everybody thinks. But to play fast with responsibility, having seven turnovers (against Bryant) for example, that leads to more open shots and plays to our strengths."

The Pac-12 isn't that big, either.

Aside from UCLA, USC and Stanford, Pac-12 teams aren't loaded with huge size inside this season, meaning guys such as Perry and Hill won't face big mismatches often.

And the one team who has befuddled UA with a slower pace and zone defense as much as anybody in recent years - Oregon State - is now the highest-scoring team in the league. Go figure.

It's fun.

In order to cement the faster scheme, Miller said he mostly has to convince his staff. He doesn't figure to have trouble convincing his players, especially since a faster pace will allow more of the Wildcats' deep rotation to score - and thus be happier.

"I've yet to see a guy, when I've recruited him, say 'Can you slow it down? I want to run a set play every time. Whatever you do, let's walk it up,'" Miller said. "And yet, when they get here, one of the things everyone realizes is that it's very hard to play offense on the run. It takes a lot every day, not just in games.

"(But) we're much more sure now, and hopefully that's reflected in more of an up-tempo (pace), of a push up and down the court. I think that will serve us well."

On StarNet: Follow the Cats on Bruce Pascoe's blog at azstarnet.com/pascoe

Up next

• What: Arizona State at Arizona

• When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

• TV: FSAZ, Ch 58

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)

Sean Miller's scoring offenses

Year Team PPG W-L

2011-12* Arizona 71.1 9-4

2010-11 Arizona 76.4 30-8

2009-10 Arizona 71.9 16-15

2008-09 Xavier 71.7 27-8

2007-08 Xavier 75.1 30-7

2006-07 Xavier 76.3 25-9

2005-06 Xavier 71.6 21-11

2004-05 Xavier 70.1 17-12

*to date

Arizona's 2011-12 scoring average

• With big lineup (through Nov. 23 San Diego State game): 68.0

• With small lineup (after San Diego State game): 73.7

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Latest Video

More videos

This is Tucson: Weekend of September 5th

Irene and Hannah discuss local Tucson events happening this weekend


Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Featured businesses

View more...

Deals, offers & events

View more...