Arizona basketball: Triumph at the arc

Hard work has sharpened Wildcats' three-point game, offensively and defensively
2011-02-03T00:00:00Z 2014-07-24T09:55:28Z Arizona basketball: Triumph at the arcBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 03, 2011 12:00 am  • 

The defining image of the Arizona Wildcats basketball season so far is probably a high-flying, wide-smiling Derrick Williams stuffing the ball in the basket over some hapless defender's head.

But the truth is the Wildcats' success to this point has largely been defined outside the three-point line, on both ends of the court.

Arizona has the three best three-point shooters in Pac-10 games and - although it struggles with interior defense - leads the country in three-point percentage defense by holding opponents to an average of 26.7 percent.

"To be No. 1 is a great accomplishment to this point," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "If you can get (opponents) into the low 30s, that's a great job. That's our goal. If you defend at that level, it's a pretty good indicator you're doing your job."

On offense, the Wildcats have an unusual three-point attack. Instead of having one or two starting gunners on the wings, Arizona gets its highest percentage shooting from three reserves - and from Williams, who leads the Pac-10 with a mind-blowing 73.3 percent mark.

Six Wildcats, who shoot three-pointers regularly, average 37 percent or better and, oddly, starting guards MoMo Jones (33.3) and Kyle Fogg (31.6) aren't among them.

"When we sub (with) Jordin (Mayes), Kevin (Parrom), Brendon (Lavender) and Jamelle (Horne), you can make the case those are the four best three-point shooters on our team," Miller said. "You throw in fact that Derrick is shooting the percentage he is, and you have Kyle there, and Solomon (Hill) is much improved, and you have seven guys who can make threes.

"On given nights when certain individual guys have bad nights shooting threes, it's usually offset from one of those other guys. Hopefully, that can continue."

Here's a look at why it's working for the Wildcats on both sides of the arc:

DEFENSE

1. Continuity

As with many other areas of the program, the Wildcats are benefiting from being in the second year of Miller's system. The frilly zone defenses of 2008-09 are long gone, and in their place, solidly, has been Miller's man-to-man defense with only a sprinkling of zone.

The Wildcats knew what to expect as last season went on, then worked on it in the off-season, and carried it over into this season.

"We play one defense," Miller said, "and we get repetitions every day, and now in our case, more than one season. By working on the details, it has a way of improving."

2. Sacrificing the interior

Because Miller's man-to-man defense doesn't often collapse on the post, players generally can stick to their opponents. But that may change: The Wildcats are giving up 51 percent shooting from two-point range in Pac-10 games, and Miller doesn't want to see that go on forever.

"The more you see us trap the post, the more you'll see our field goal percentage defense go the wrong way," Miller said. "We're trying to defend closer to the basket better, with smaller players. It's not always easy to do. As we try to put two guys on the ball, sometimes we can help that - and hurt our three-point field goal defense. That's a real balancing act."

3. Kyle Fogg

Arizona's junior shooting guard may not be producing the kind of three-point shooting he'd like, but he's more than making up for it on the other side of the ball.

Williams cited the UA's biggest win of the season, a 65-63 win at Washington State, as one reason.

"Not many people can hold Klay (Thompson, WSU wing) to nine points," Williams said. Fogg "did that and that's the reason why we won. People say it was about the 19 rebounds I had, but if he didn't hold Klay, we don't win that game."

Fogg said it has been a "maturity thing" to realize that guarding the opponent's best perimeter player is his top job, to be emphasized no matter how his offensive game is going.

"Even in the beginning of the season, I'd think more about offense," Fogg said. "Then if I wasn't making shots, my defense would suffer. But now I'm just happy to be winning. If my shots are not falling, I'm going to play defense either way and try to let that feed into the offensive end."

OFFENSE

1. Repetition

Simple, but true. Just a 35.8 percent three-point shooting team a year ago, the Wildcats are better this season, in part because they just practice a lot.

"During the season, and in particular in the off-season, they've worked at shooting the ball," Miller said. "Derrick's a great example of that. Solomon and Kevin are two other examples who are so much better from three than they were at any time a year ago."

Williams and Fogg said it helps that not only do the Wildcats practice shooting, but also they do so in game-like situations whenever possible.

"We get a lot of opportunities to shoot it in practice, in live game situations," Fogg said. "When we're shooting by ourselves, we try to put ourselves in game situations. We miss some shots then, but we'll be able to get used to it and take them in the games."

2. Selection

Of course, it isn't just about mechanics. The Wildcats have also better pinpointed what is a good shot and when to take it, rather than to launch random three-pointers.

That's a function of maturity and continuity, too.

"We're taking better shots," Miller says. "We generate higher-quality shots on our offense than a year ago. Take good shots and you have a better chance of making them."

3. Him again

Yep, you can't avoid Williams in this area, either. Even though his 24 made three-pointers don't qualify him for the national three-point leaders, the nearly unguardable 6-foot-8-inch forward is running away with the Pac-10 competition.

What may be most amazing is that he's not one of the Wildcats' three best three-point shooters in practice, Miller says.

"He's right," Williams said, chuckling.

Instead, Williams is shooting 70.6 percent from the arc in all games primarily because he's shooting them when the lights are on.

"I would say Brendon is very good (in practice), Kevin's very good and Jamelle is very good," Miller said. "Kyle is maybe fourth."

"Derrick just makes them when they count. That's a great gift for him. Hopefully, he'll keep that up."

 

On the mark from BEHIND the arc

Hard work during the off-season by Wildcat players has resulted in excellent statistics regarding three-point shots. In particular, Derrick Williams, below, went from making 4 of 16 three-pointers in 2009-2010 to making 24 of 34 this year through 22 games.

Defense

• No. 1 nationally: 26.7 percent allowed

• No. 1 in Pac-10 games: 22.4 percent allowed

Offense

• No. 11 nationally: 40.7 percent made

• No. 1 in Pac-10: 45.7 percent made

Three-point percentage leaders in Pac-10 games:

1. Derrick Williams, UA, 73.3

2. Jamelle Horne, UA, 47.6

2. Kevin Parrom, UA, 47.6

4. Ty Abbott, ASU, 47.2

5. Allen Crabbe, Cal, 46.7

Note: Williams, Parrom and Horne do not have enough made threes to qualify for NCAA statistical leaders.

Today

• What: Arizona at Stanford

• When: 7 p.m. on FSAZ, Channel 58

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

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