Arizona Wildcats’ chance against Texas not as remote as some might believeby Javier Morales on Mar. 18, 2011, under Sports
A few minutes after Arizona survived Friday with a 77-75 escape over Memphis, assistant coach James Whitford concluded his radio interview with Brian Jeffries by saying the words that should make the Wildcats and their fans cringe:
“Texas is the polar opposite of Memphis. Memphis is more guard-oriented. Texas is more power ball, getting the ball to their 3 (wing), 4 (power forward) and 5 (center). It will be like playing UCLA.”
UCLA’s Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith combined to shoot 30 of 45 from the field (66.7 percent) against the Wildcats in two games this season. Tyler Honeycutt, who made only 1 of 8 shots in UCLA’s 85-74 loss at McKale Center on Jan. 27, scored 15 on 6-of-12 shooting from the field in the Bruins’ 71-49 rout of the Cats at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 26.
Smith, Nelson and Honeycutt accounted for 59 of UCLA’s 71 points in Arizona’s worst showing of the year at Pauley.
And Texas (28-7 overall) is like UCLA?
“We have to play Texas like we played UCLA at our place, not like we did at their place,” Whitford said with a laugh.
Laughs will be few and far between from when UA coach Sean Miller and his staff departed the BOK Center to the time they finally fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning after watching film of Texas.
The Texas starting frontcourt looks this way:
Freshman post player Tristan Thompson (6-8, 225) — Tallied seven blocked shots in the Longhorns’ 85-81 win over Oakland in the earlier first-round matchup. He averages 13.4 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. He has 82 blocked shots compared to Derrick Williams‘ 25. He had 17 points and 10 rebounds against Oakland center Keith Benson, a future NBA player.
Sophomore wing player Jordan Hamilton (6-7, 220) — He has numbers similar to Williams, averaging 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds a game. He had 19 points and 10 rebounds against Oakland.
Senior power forward Gary Johnson (6-6, 235) — He had only eight points and two boards against Oakland, but he’s averaging 11.4 points and 6.8 rebounds a game.
Thompson, Hamilton and Johnson combine to average 43.5 points and 22.4 rebounds a game. By contrast, Arizona’s starting frontcourt players Williams (6-8, 241), Jesse Perry (6-7, 210) and Solomon Hill (6-6, 226) average 33.1 points and 16.9 rebounds a game.
So Arizona (28-7) does not stand a chance right? This is another nightmare in store, similar to how Arizona could not defend (or provide help defense) against the Pac-10 best interior scorers and rebounders? Nikola Vucevic, Alex Stepheson, Markhuri Sanders-Frison, Harper Kamp, Nelson and Smith all over again?
Not so fast. Sorry for the pun. That’s not so fast as in Arizona would be wise, believe it or not, to not allow Texas to play in a fast-paced, frenzied, open-court game. Not wise, at least this year. If this game was played with imposing, athletic inside defenders Angelo Chol (Class of 2011) and Grant Jerrett (Class of 2012) already on the roster, then, yes, open it up.
Anthony Gimino: Texas-sized trouble awaits Arizona
The Longhorns in the open floor are as good as any team in the country, especially with a player like freshman Cory Joseph (105 assists and 51 turnovers) running the show. The Longhorns are also deep on the perimeter with guys who can start for most Pac-10 teams, including reserves J’Covan Brown and Jai Lucas.
But if Arizona tries to control tempo and force the Longhorns to produce in their halfcourt offense, this game can be won. The difference between UCLA and Texas in that regard is that the Bruins are coached by Ben Howland, who is known for his ability to game-plan within a halfcourt set. That is not Texas coach Rick Barnes‘ strong suit, as was obvious against Oakland.
The Longhorns could not put the Golden Grizzlies away partly because while trying to preserve their lead, they had to slow things down. As a result, they lost their edge and looked lost in their halfcourt sets. The Longhorns shot 34.5 percent from the field after intermission after making 58.8 percent in the first half.
Thompson only attempted six field goals, making three, in the second half. He was 7 of 14 in the game.
“I really thought we should have put it there (to Thompson) more,” Barnes said in the interview room after the game. “We feel that we need to play through him. We also wanted to open up the court a little bit and drive them because you want to try to put some fouls on their guards too because they’re such good players.
“But we did want to work inside out as much as we can. We have to do a better job of screening, but we wanted to give him the ball and let him go. Again, make them guard on the inside, and what I do like to be quite honest with you, I look down and see where he got 14 shots. That is the most he’s had in a long time. So, again, we need to continue to play through him.”
CBS commentator Steve Kerr, a coach-on-the-floor for Lute Olson while at Arizona and a former Phoenix Suns general manager, can dissect a team as good as any broadcaster in the business. Kerr said more than once that Memphis was dangerous in the open court, but once Arizona slowed the Tigers and forced them to create off the dribble in their halfcourt sets, they were much less effective.
In that sense, Miller and his staff could not have asked for a better team to play before Texas than Memphis because their open-floor styles mirror each other. It was a good tuneup. Whitford’s comment that Texas and Memphis are polar opposites was directed more to the fact that Texas has more of an inside presence.
It’s no secret the Longhorns love the transition game and they want to attack once the ball passes midcourt.
Texas averages 74.9 points a game compared to Arizona’s 76.5.
If the Wildcats manage to force Texas to set screens and run motion plays, its perimeter and help-side defenders must pick up the slack to alleviate pressure off Williams and Perry against Thompson and Hamilton. This will be the 36th game of the season. The Wildcats should be more involved and prepared with that task.
Like Miller told his team after the win over Memphis, “In March, you got to be nasty, you got to be together and you also have to be smart.”
The nastier, smarter and more harmonious team wins Sunday in Tulsa. With 28 victories, the Wildcats have shown they can be effective in those three areas. Can they apply them against one of the best teams they have faced this season?
A team in the Round of 32 of the NCAA tournament is capable of anything.