The Arizona Wildcats defense is coming along, improved over last season, but it’s not to the level coach Sean Miller would like.
In his first season as coach, players often torched the Wildcats. This season, a variety of post players, especially lately, have feasted on Arizona’s “milk and cookies” defense.
With its man-to-man strategy, Arizona leads the Pac-10 in 3-point field goal defense, allowing teams to shoot just 27.4 percent from behind the arc. But the Wildcats rank just seventh in overall field goal percentage defense, letting teams hit 43.5 percent.
Hence, the very accommodating, overly polite “milk and cookies” approach to defense.
So, with Arizona’s defensive hiccups and a general lack of size, which opponents have most had their way against the Cats in nearly two seasons under Miller?
Here’s one version of a five-man All-Opponent team:
G Jimmer Fredette, BYU
The team captain. He scored 82 points in two games against Arizona, including a McKale Center-record 49 last season. He made 27 of 45 shots — 12 of 19 from 3-point range.
G Cameron Jones, NAU
Surprised? Don’t be. Jones scored 29 and 27 points in two games against Arizona, hitting 23 of 33 shots. After this season’s meeting, Miller said: “Cameron Jones doesn’t get the credit he deserves. I would put him against any of the great guards who are playing college basketball right now.”
SF Landry Fields, Stanford
There are some other good possibilities here, but Fields’ two games against Arizona last season still stand out. He had 31 points and 11 rebounds in the first meeting, then 24 and six in the second game.
PF Reeves Nelson, UCLA
Here’s an incredible stat: In Nelson’s past three games against Arizona, he has made 28 of 34 shots (with a double-double each time). The Cats do not want to see him again in the Pac-10 tournament. Or ever, really.
PF DeAngelo Casto, WSU
He gets the nod over USC’s Nikola Vucevic, who has been superb against Arizona this season but wasn’t much of a factor last year. Casto has been consistently good against the Cats, averaging 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in four games.
SIXTH MAN: G Isaiah Thomas, Washington
His four-game averages against Arizona: 14.8 points, 6.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds.
I only considered guys who played at least twice against Arizona, regretfully having to leave off Lipscomb post player Adnan Hodzic, who had 34 points and 13 rebounds in McKale last season.
Clearly, the headliner of the bunch is Fredette.
On Tuesday’s Pac-10 coaches teleconference with the media, Miller, as he has done on the past, compared Fredette to former Georgia Tech and NBA star Mark Price. Miller then elaborated:
“Jimmer Freddette is so good at getting his own shot, not needing anything or anybody to help him. To me, that’s the hardest part of playing against BYU and him. It’s not like he’s running off of all these screens where you’re getting guys to jump out or switch … a lot of his points just stem from his own individual ability and creativity. And he can do it shooting the three or driving.
“He just has a way about him. It can mentally wear your team out because the shots as they go in just take that effect of ‘There’s not any easy answer here today.’ There just isn’t.
“You’re going to play zone against them? I mean, you almost can’t at all. Then, you go man and you’re at his mercy.”
Miller noted that BYU “was nice” this season, taking out Fredette before he could do any more damage in an 87-65 win in Salt Lake City. Fredette scored 33.
“He really is a special, special player,” Miller said. “In the two games he played against a team that I coached, he was as good as any individual player that I’ve seen live.”
(Any arguments with the All-Opponent team? Let me know in the comments section.)