Greg Hansen: Defense, freshmen break through walls

2013-01-13T00:00:00Z 2013-01-14T15:31:05Z Greg Hansen: Defense, freshmen break through wallsGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

CORVALLIS, Ore.

The UA has lost seven games at Gill Coliseum the last 25 seasons, all of them when it had superior forces, a better résumé, higher ranking and a befuddled look on its face.

Part of it was the inherent peril of the college basketball road, and part of it was that the Wildcats always seemed to get OSU's best shot (one of its few in any season). Another part was that Arizona often seemed to play at less than full throttle here.

The cinderblock walls are so thin at the old arena that you can hear through the walls, from the media room into the adjoining visitor's locker room, and much of the fun of making the trip to Corvallis has been to eavesdrop on some postgame dialogue from Lute Olson, Kevin O'Neill, Russ Pennell and now, especially now, from the fiery Sean Miller.

But on Saturday night, after Arizona won routinely 80-70, after it had played harder and smarter than it had played for two weeks, the only noise coming through the wall was some backslapping applause by a relieved UA traveling party. It was all PG rated: pretty good performance.

Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said his team was "undermanned and overmatched," but the irony is that this was the season the Beavers projected to stack up with Arizona, and possibly be favored here.

When the Beavers and Wildcats departed the Pac-12 tournament last March, OSU appeared to be in position to bring back five starters, with size, depth, talent and experience. Playing the Beavers in Corvallis would for once be dreaded for a reason that doesn't include rain, fog and a dreary atmosphere at Gill Coliseum.

But, ironically, by the time Arizona stepped on the court Saturday night, OSU was missing four players, including rebounding machine Eric Moreland (suspended), 6-10 veteran Angus Brandt (injured), and the departed Jared Cunningham, who bolted for the NBA a year early.

Here's how much Moreland was missed: in OSU's near-miss at Kansas, an 84-78 loss six weeks ago, Moreland had 16 rebounds.

On Saturday, Arizona took total advantage of the Beavers' personnel losses. Remember when Arizona suffered Miller's descriptive "Death By Inches," a killer lack of size last year? On Saturday, it was Oregon State that was victimized by the Death By Inches routine.

Justice, huh?

Arizona blocked a season-high nine shots (including six by freshman Grant Jerrett) and out-rebounded the Beavers 43-37. The Wildcats scored 13 points off second-chance opportunities. Those numbers turned the game.

"That kills you," said OSU point guard Ahmad Starks.

"Our length gave them some trouble," said Jerrett, who played what Miller said was the freshman's best game as a collegian. "After losing (at Oregon) we really regrouped and focused on this game. Friday was terrible, just terrible. It was even hard for me to sleep, just thinking of how we let that game get away."

This time, Jerrett and his teammates probably slept well on their midnight charter flight back to Tucson.

As much as Arizona was in the wrong place at the wrong time Thursday in Eugene, it was in the right place at the right time Saturday. The Beavers were as vulnerable as the Ducks, at a season-high pitch, were not.

"We've got a lot of pieces missing," said OSU center Devon Collier, who was outstanding, with 15 rebounds and 13 points. But he just didn't have enough help inside.

For the first time in four games, Miller wasn't asked "what went wrong?" No wonder his postgame chat with his players drew joyful shouts that could be heard in the corridor.

"One of the things we didn't do the last three games was defend (well)," Miller said. "Tonight we did."

In particular, the Wildcats limited Starks to a pair of three-point baskets. He is one of the league's most explosive players, its leader in total three-pointers (41), a potential game-changer. But on Saturday night, after nailing two early treys, Starks always had someone in his grill. Miller's strategy and his players' execution worked far better with Starks than, say, Kansas' defense did.

Starks torched the Jayhawks for seven three-pointers.

Miller made sure he commended his freshmen big men, Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, who combined for 25 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks. They played with more spirit and purpose than at Oregon.

One of the game's turning points came with 16:30 remaining, with Arizona leading 47-37. Collier got the ball near the basket and went up for a layup. Ashley and Tarczewski, with their hands extended, surrounded Collier. He was stuffed twice. The Beavers never got any closer. Such was the way the game was played.

Death by inches, touché.

"They're freshmen," said Miller, who defended the spotty play of the three prep All-Americans. "They're not going to show up in a gown and a cape and be the third pick in the NBA draft in five months. That's a fantasy land for 95 percent of the players."

What's not a fantasy is that Arizona is 15-1 and feeling good about splitting a difficult road trip.

It will soon discover that the next two games, Saturday against the Sun Devils and the following Thursday against UCLA, are more imposing than what it faced on the Oregon Trail.

"They're all big games now," said UA point guard Mark Lyons. "I think on this trip we got back to where we needed to be."

On StarNet: See more photos from the game at azstarnet.com/gallery

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Pac-12 basketball standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Arizona 0 0 0 0.000 0 0 0 0.000
Arizona State 0 0 0 0.000 0 0 0 0.000
California 0 0 0 0.000 0 0 0 0.000
Colorado 0 0 0 0.000 0 0 0 0.000
Oregon 0 0 0 0.000 0 0 0 0.000
Oregon State 0 0 0 0.000 0 0 0 0.000
Stanford 0 0 0 0.000 0 0 0 0.000
UCLA 0 0 0 0.000 0 0 0 0.000
USC 0 0 0 0.000 0 0 0 0.000
Utah 0 0 0 0.000 0 0 0 0.000
Washington 0 0 0 0.000 0 0 0 0.000
Washington State 0 0 0 0.000 0 0 0 0.000

AP Top 25


Pac-12 basketball schedule

Teams Date Time
Cal Poly Pomona at
Stanford
11/6 8:00 pm
Azusa Pacific at
Washington State
11/7 12:00 am
Cal Poly Pomona at
Arizona
11/9 4:00 pm
Mount St. Mary's at
Arizona
11/14 6:00 pm
Coppin State at
Oregon
11/14 10:00 pm
Detroit at
Oregon
11/17 9:00 pm
Cal-Irvine at
Arizona
11/19 7:00 pm
Oral Roberts at
Oregon State
11/21 7:00 pm
Texas-Pan American at
Utah
11/26 6:00 pm
Northern Colorado at
Colorado
12/13 4:00 pm
Washington State at
Santa Clara
12/13 8:00 pm
Grambling at
Oregon State
12/15 8:00 pm
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