Maybe the only surprise about the zone defense that Arizona faced Monday for the first time this season was that … it was the first zone defense Arizona has faced this season.
Stacked with formidable size and unproven 3-point shooters, the Wildcats were inviting an opponent to throw out a zone over their first three games.
Northern Colorado bit Monday, going with a fulltime 2-3 zone — and managed to stay within two baskets until the final four minutes of UA’s 71-55 win.
Now there’s a game video for other opponents to see, and guess what they might be thinking?
“We expect teams to play zone,” UA guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said. “We have to make adjustments.”
UA coach Sean Miller said that generally man-to-man teams will continue to play man against the Wildcats, and zone teams will play zone but that “maybe some teams will try it out” against them.
Especially teams such as Northern Colorado, which is rebuilding in the wake of a coaching change and NCAA sanctions. Why not try it out?
The undermanned and undersized Bears of the Big Sky Conference held UA to just 36.7 percent shooting in the first half Monday, while the Wildcats hit just 3 of 10 3-pointers and only 4 of 16 for the game. Northern Colorado led 31-30 at halftime.
“That first time (against a zone), you really rely on your older guys, and unfortunately for us we had a ton of new faces,” Miller said. “So we had a deer-in-the-headlight look. In the first half we were a little bit more unsettled … We were just hoping we’d make a 3.”
Even though UA was 1 for 6 from long range in the second half, Miller said he liked the way the Wildcats’ attacked the zone better, and that the shots they took were generally good ones to take.
While there are a number of subtle passing and screening strategies that the Wildcats can use to solve the inevitable zones they will face in the future, here’s five basic concepts they found Monday that might work going forward: