Defense steps up: Wildcats shut down top shooter

Nick Johnson, Arizona's best defender for most of the season, had a major role in keeping Ian Clark, left, from heating up.


SALT LAKE CITY - He was statistically superior but didn't seem dangerous.

He led all scorers at halftime but wasn't a walking, shooting emblem of momentum.

Ian Clark, the Belmont guard who was the nation's most effective three-point shooter entering the Arizona Wildcats' 81-64 NCAA tournament win Thursday, had 11 points at the break on 5-of-10 shooting.

It just didn't feel that way.

"They weren't really a big 11," UA guard Nick Johnson said.

"Made him earn everything he got," wing Kevin Parrom added.

"You get the sense that tonight he earned the points - and that's what we want him to do, is earn the points," UA coach Sean Miller said.

By the time Clark scored 10 more in the second frame, finishing with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting - 3 of 8 from three-point range - the outcome was academic.

The Wildcats - be it Johnson, the team's best defender for most of the season, or a resurgent Jordin Mayes - had kept Clark from sparking an upset.

The Bruins trailed 14-4 and would come only as close as two, after Clark made a three-pointer, part of a seven-point run by the guard.

"Shots just weren't falling early, and I think when that happens early, and they're making shots, it's human nature to get down, team-wise," Clark said.

Belmont made only 1 of its first 11 shots.

Stunningly, five were botched layups, the seeds of self-consciousness seeping into the most basic of basketball plays.

"This is just cryin' over spilled milk," Bruins coach Rick Byrd said.

Belmont needed to play well to win, he said, and didn't.

"We missed the same kind of threes that they made throughout the game," he said. "If you're going to beat a team that's that good and that talented, you kinda have to make it go the other way.

"You've got to make big-time plays and finish layups, and we have to shoot it better than they shoot it, and we didn't do it."

Johnson started the game on Clark after scouting his moves all week.

"You gotta be focused," the sophomore guard said. "You gotta know all his plays, his little quick-hitters and stuff. Aside from that, you just gotta be focused on the court."

"He's great with creating spaces.

"When he sees you lay off of him, he's going to pull that (shot). … Great with his footwork and changing speeds.

"You can know all his quick-hitters and stuff. At the end of the day, you have to go out and play."

Clark said the Wildcats didn't face-guard him, the way most teams do.

"I tried to use that to my advantage: be more aggressive, whether it was shooting the ball or putting it on the floor and trying to make plays," he said.

Johnson was quick to praise his teammates, particularly Mayes, who switched onto Clark in his stead.

"He's a great cutter, he's a great mover," Mayes said. "I just wanted to stay attached, stay behind him, and just chase him off screens and try to challenge the shot.

"It was key for the defender that was guarding him to chase him and try to keep him from shooting threes."

They got help, too.

The UA categorized Belmont's frontcourt into two groups - the ones that could shoot from deep, and the ones who couldn't. When there were two shooters in the game, Miller swapped out center Kaleb Tarczewski for quicker players.

"We knew coming in they had a really good pick-and-roll offense," the center said. "They have guards that can attack the rim, and they have guards that can shoot from range."

The Wildcats were aggressive in trying to prevent three-point tries, both switching and trying to run above the screen, depending on the players involved.

"It's not as easy as it looks when it gets to the middle," UA forward Solomon Hill said. "The first thing you think about is trying to stop the two.

"I think today we had to be dependent on our big and our point guard to really stop the transition, to try to stop the pick and roll."

The Wildcats might not have had Clark's number, but they came close. And that was enough.

"I think we really did a good job of shutting No. 21 down," Tarczewski said.

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at or 573-4145. On Twitter @PatrickFinley