Arizona basketball: Cats are a tall order of business

UA's size leads CSU to use zone instead of man-to-man defense
2012-11-12T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:12:59Z Arizona basketball: Cats are a tall order of businessPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 12, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Barclay Radebaugh sat in his office the other day inside CSU Field House - which, with 881 seats, is the smallest arena in Div. I-A - and began to watch film of the Arizona Wildcats.

Clip after clip ran of the UA's exhibition game performances.

Finally, the Charleston Southern coach had seen enough.

"I tried to figure out how to guard them man-to-man," said the reigning Big South Conference Coach of the Year. "I just turned the tape off."

The Buccaneers, then, would play zone defense in the Arizona Wildcats' season opener Sunday at McKale Center.

And they would play it well, too, in a 82-73 loss that felt much closer than the final differential.

"We didn't feel like we could guard their man-to-man stuff," Radebaugh said. "We're a multiple defensive team. We changed. (Sunday night), we were a singular defensive team."

The Buccaneers played a 2-3 matchup zone, bumping offensive players and shifting in the name of confusion.

"There's a reason why we went zone today," said forward Mathiang Muo, who had 17 points and seven rebounds. "We knew if we went man-to-man, they would have thrown the ball down low a lot and had their bigs go one-on-one with our bigs."

That would have been a problem.

CSU's starting front line stood 6-foot-8, 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-5. The Wildcats were 7-foot, 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-7, with 6-foot-9 Angelo Chol and 6-foot-8 Brandon Ashley coming off the bench.

"You can't just play man every time," Muo said. "You might go against size. You try to go man and they might destroy you down low.

"Sometimes you have to switch it up to keep the offense thinking."

The Wildcats - who scored only 28 points in the paint, compared to CSU's 22 - will undoubtedly see more zone.

"When we have mismatches down low," guard Nick Johnson said, "we're going to keep going to the post players.

"We're going to have mismatches against every team we play."

The key is to exploit them.

The UA struggled to do so in the block, and were out-rebounded, 34-31.

"Sometimes it's harder for the big guys to play against zone - especially for the young big guys," UA coach Sean Miller said.

The Buccaneers "dared them to shoot threes" to start the game, Muo said. Almost half the Wildcats' first-half shots - 14 of 29 - came from beyond the arc.

"They didn't know what was going on at first, so they settled for some threes," point guard Saah Nimley said. "We got some rebounds and we pushed it out and we executed on offense and got some good looks - and we able to stay in the game."

The UA adjusted in the second frame, putting shooters in the corners; Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Mark Lyons all made treys there.

"We adjusted," Muo said, "but it was too late at that time."

Faced with the same issue last year, CSU opened in man-to-man defense against Kansas State. It didn't last long.

"They got a look inside, and our coach said, 'Let's go zone,'" Nimley said.

They never played man again in that game, led by 14 at halftime and lost by five.

"Much like Kansas State helped us last year, this gives us a point to reference back to," Radebaugh said. "As a coach they'll hear me say, 'If you can rebound with Arizona, you can rebound with anybody. If you can defend pretty well Arizona, you can defend anybody.'

"It's just a reference point."

He called Miller "one of the best coaches in the country," and began to list his attributes.

Radebaugh said he liked the UA's recruiting, the way it played unselfishly and the air of confidence with which it plays.

"And fourth," he said, "I hope I'm not repeating myself - they're extremely well-coached."

Hold on, he was.

"Fourth," Radebaugh said smiling, "their skill level, and their size, is just significant."

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