SPOKANE, Wash. - The Arizona Wildcats expect a zone defense to be thrown at them again tonight at Washington State.
But this time, it might be a good thing.
Or at least it's better for the Wildcats than having Isaiah Thomas and the Washington Huskies in their face, disrupting Arizona's shaky point guard play and rolling to a 17-point victory Thursday in Seattle.
Upon reflection Friday - and after some game review - UA coach Sean Miller called the Wildcats' offensive execution at Washington "one of our worst performances" of the season and blamed his own point guards, along with Thomas and the Huskies' relentless pressure.
"When you have a team that pressures like Washington, that puts a lot of onus on your point guards to get your team into the offense and sometimes make plays," Miller said Friday at the team hotel in Spokane, where the Wildcats stayed, instead of traveling directly to Pullman. "In the first half, we were down five points and only had seven turnovers, but five of them came from our point guard position. So some of that is not being able to get into the offense, and that takes a toll. But it's certainly not (all on) them."
Besides, Miller said, it's not as if he didn't expect there would be games like this. Thomas, on one hand, is one of the country's best point guards, curiously playing better now that Washington point guard Abdul Gaddy is sidelined for the season. On the other side, Arizona had, basically, a committee of apprentices.
There was MoMo Jones, still with DNA-stamped "shooting guard." There's Jordin Mayes, at times a smooth offensive player and playmaker, yet also, as in Thursday's game, a freshman. Then there's Brendon Lavender, Miller's third option, pulled out Thursday when nothing else was going right.
It's the way it was going to be and, just over the halfway point of the season, the way it still is.
"The way I look at our point guard situation is we're 15-4, we've played some very good basketball, and had the same point guard situation from the onset," Miller said. "I knew in the fall that it was going to be a work in progress, and we're depending on MoMo and Jordin to do a good job. At times, they've played well, and at other times, they haven't.
"Our coaching staff, what we have to do is continue to teach them, show them the things they can do better and make sure that when they play well that they know we believe in them. … Moving into March, it is crucial that we continue to develop them. That position is really critical for our team moving forward. We have to do a good job of just making them better."
On Thursday at Washington, Jones had three turnovers and two assists, while scoring 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting. Mayes had two turnovers and one assist while going 0 for 4 from the free-throw line.
Jones said it was no different than any other game for him.
"It's a tough transition every game," Jones said. "It's just tough being a guy that wasn't a point guard and being brought into that. It's tough, night in and night out. It wasn't harder or less harder than any other game."
Miller said he has turned to Lavender as a third point guard option over Kyle Fogg because he seemed more comfortable in practices earlier in the season. Lavender could be an option in future games, too.
"We just gave him a chance," Miller said. "Brendon does play point guard every day in practice. He's gotten reps in everything we do. It's not as if he doesn't know what to do. The one thing about Brendon, if he is at the point, he's bigger on defense and he has progressed, like Kyle has, as a defender. He can shoot the ball, and I think sometimes what you look for in a point guard is (if they will) do what the coach wants to get done."
Tonight, the UA guards won't see intense pressure but they will be dealing with one of the conference's better point guards in Reggie Moore, who had 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists against ASU on Thursday - after being reinstated from a suspension related to marijuana charges.
Then there's wing Klay Thompson and big man DeAngelo Casto, the two other sharp points of the Cougars' three-pronged attack. It could be even more difficult if WSU guard Faisal Aden returns from a sore knee, which kept him out Thursday.
Provided the Wildcats can cope with WSU's offense, Miller is confident they can handle the zone - certainly more than they handled Thomas.
"They'll play a lot of 2-3 zone," Miller said. "They'll mix up, they'll go man, go zone. A lot of teams have done that against us. I pretty much anticipate us being able to score and execute against Washington State's zone."
• Who: Arizona at Washington State
• When: 8:30 p.m.
• TV: FSAZ
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM