UA HOOPS

Arizona basketball: Defending 3-pointers becomes priority

2012-11-22T00:00:00Z 2014-08-01T11:22:20Z Arizona basketball: Defending 3-pointers becomes priorityBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 22, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The Arizona Wildcats won their first three regular-season games by an average of 17.4 points and were never seriously challenged in any of them after the first 30 minutes.

That could be enough to lull them to sleep during an eight-day break before their next game, Wednesday against NAU.

But a closer look at the box scores reveals several areas that the Wildcats are eager to improve on this weekend.

Among them:

Defending the three-pointer

Arizona has allowed its three opponents to make a cumulative 39.2 percent of its three-point shots, and 47 percent of the opponent's field goal attempts have been from beyond the arc.

Teams know three-point territory is a good place to hang out against the Wildcats.

Charleston Southern made 10 of 28 threes in the regular-season opener, bothering to take only 22 shots from inside the arc. And Long Beach State also took more than half its shots from three-point range, making 14 of 32.

You might say Arizona hasn't made a whole lot of progress with perimeter defense since allowing Humboldt State to shoot 9 of 19 from three-point range in its first exhibition game.

"Giving up 14 threes was bad," UA coach Sean Miller said after UA's 94-72 win over Long Beach State on Monday. "It wasn't that they got hot; they earned it. But if you look at that and the exhibition games, that's a problem right now.

"At this break that's a real big focus for us to be able to take away the three-point shot. That's one of the main things we're going to try to get better at during this break."

What particularly bothers forward Solomon Hill is the contrast between this season and last, when the Wildcats held opponents to 28.5 percent shooting from three-point range and 28.1 percent in Pac-12 games.

"The three-point defense is something we were big on the past few years, and it's something we've gotten away from this year," Hill said. "The three can hurt us. It's something we took for granted before, and when we played (exhibition games) in the Bahamas, they weren't teams that were shooting heavy threes. … I think we'll rebound well and get some offensive rebounds, but the key will still be on defense."

Feeding the post

Miller warned everyone this could take a while, and it might. As talented as UA's four frontcourt players are, the rest of the Wildcats haven't been trained to regularly look for teammates inside - because that wasn't as attractive an option before.

As a partial result, 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski has taken only 10 shots over the three games, though he has shot 12 free throws. Meanwhile, forward Grant Jerrett is 1 for 10 on two-point shots.

Against the 49ers, Tarczewski managed seven points while going 2 of 4 from the field and 3 of 7 from the line.

"Kaleb is a function of his teammates in a lot of ways because he depends on them to get the ball, but I thought our team did the best job so far of getting him the ball" against Long Beach, Miller said. "We're trying to work our team to get him the ball a little bit easier. I thought we popped it in there three or four times whereas a couple of games ago we wouldn't have been able to do that."

Tarczewski is also dealing with foul issues and the general adjustment a 7-footer must make to major college basketball.

"I thought a couple of times there were fouls that weren't called (against Long Beach State), but it's hard because he's strong, and many times when they try to defend him, you have to be physical," Miller said. "That's part of what we're trying to get him to understand, to pick his moments. He can't always be aggressive because he's going to foul."

Smoothening the point

There's no doubt the infusion of senior guard Mark Lyons has benefited the Wildcats, with the 23-year-old Xavier transfer bringing experience, toughness and scoring to the backcourt.

Lyons has been Arizona's third-leading scorer, with an average of 12.7 points per game, but struggled against Long Beach State, with four points, three assists and four turnovers. He has 10 assists and eight turnovers over the three games while fellow point guard Jordin Mayes has six assists and six turnovers.

Even though Lyons redshirted in 2008-09 under Miller at Xavier and spent the past three years in a similar offensive system under Chris Mack with the Musketeers, he is still coping with change.

Just like everyone else. Of UA's 10 active scholarship players, five are newcomers.

"We have a number of new faces, including Mark Lyons," Miller said. "We're asking Mark to be our point guard and play with new players, run our team, use different terminology and a different offensive system. He's done a great job, but he's had his moments where he didn't play particularly well.

"We just want to be smoother on offense, more sure of ourselves, execute better and, no question, defensively we have to be able to address the three-point shot. But not at the expense of the other things we're doing well. … Around the basket right now we have a big advantage that we haven't had in the past."

Up next

• Who: NAU (1-2) at Arizona (3-0)

• When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

• TV: Pac-12 Network

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

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