Skip to content

No. 4 Arizona overcomes 19 point deficit, proves defense is how they’ll win games

Nov 27, 2013, 9:38 PM EST

20131127-214435.jpg Getty Images

From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — No. 4 Arizona came out like they were more concerned with where they were going to eat Thanksgiving dinner than the Drexel Dragons on Wednesday night.

Thanks to the hot hands of Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat, the Wildcats found themselves in a 27-8 hole 13 minutes into the game. They were 2-for-17 from the floor with six turnovers at that point, finishing without a single assist in the first half. That’s about as ugly as it gets.

“It’s easy to say Arizona was overlooking Drexel but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said after the game. The Wildcats knew what they were getting into, and while it took some time, the Wildcats would eventually wake up, cranking up their defense and holding Drexel to just four points over the next 12 minutes of game time. Arizona finally took a 33-31 lead — a 25-4 run — with 15 minutes left in the game. The Dragons fought for as long as they could, but Kaleb Tarczewski was too much in the post and Nick Johnson made a number of big plays down the stretch en route to a well-earned, 66-62 win.

Johnson would finished with 20 points, five boards and four assists while Tarczewski chipped in with 15 points, 13 coming in the second half, and 10 boards. Aaron Gordon added 10 points and 13 boards.

Drexel may not have earned the win, but they sure did provide future opponents with a blueprint as to how to beat Arizona.

The Wildcats are a talented group, but much of that talent manifests itself in length and athleticism. In other words, Arizona’s potential is off the charts, but this is not the most skilled offensive team that we’ve ever seen.

Think about it. Who scares you in a half court set on this roster? Who do the Wildcats give the ball to at the end of a clock? T.J. McConnell is a terrific facilitator and defender, but he’s not a break-down-the-defense kind of point guard. Gordon will be a star one day, but he still has a ways to go to realize that potential. Gabe York is a jump-shooter. Do you run your offense through postmen Brandon Ashely and Tarczewski? As good as Nick Johnson as played this season, he’s more of a secondary option, a complimentary piece, than he is a primary scorer.

And Drexel is one of the toughest, most physical defenses teams that you’ll come across. They control the pace, they control possession in the half court and they make trying to run offense miserable against them. In the first half, Arizona’s offensive rhythm was non-existent, as they finished the half shooting just 6-for-23 from the field. In the second half, the Wildcats started pounding the ball into Tarczewski, who Drexel was guarding 1-on-1, and that began to loosen things up. It also helped that Drexel’s big three — Fouch, Massenat and Damion Lee — cooled off after a sizzling start.

When the Wildcats get themselves into trouble is when they get away from moving the ball and running their offense.

“For the first time I think it was our offense,” Johnson said of Arizona’s struggles in the first half. “We just had to calm down. We know we could play with anyone in the country, just don’t get fancy on offense.”

“We were much more willing too share the ball and pass it [after halftime],” Miller said. “No team is going to function at the highest level when individuals try to force plays.”

As Johnson noted, Arizona had to “stick to their identity”. And for all the hype and attention that Arizona will get this year, their bread and butter will be on the defensive end of the floor. That’s where they will win games. “We have to defend,” Miller said. “We have to be an elite rebounding team.” They just don’t have the offensive weapons that a team like Duke does.

And after getting punched in the mouth for 13 minutes, that’s precisely who Arizona was. All that length and athleticism will look good on the fast break and in Sportscenter highlight packages, but where it will really have an effect on the game is defensively. Nick Johnson is a sensational on-ball defender, and T.J. McConnell isn’t bad himself. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon are both playmakers on that end, while Kaleb Tarczewski is the physical rim-protector and low block presence that can anchor a defense.

Perhaps more impressive is that Arizona has as much lineup versatility as anyone in the country. If they play a team that goes small against them — like, oh I don’t know, Duke? — the Wildcats can go with three guards and put Gordon at the four, or even the five if needed. But against a bigger team? It’s not ideal, but Arizona has used a lineup that featured the 6-foot-9 Gordon and the 6-foot-6 Hollis-Jefferson on the wing with Ashley and Tarczewski up front.

College basketball is all about style of play, matchups and taking advantage of mismatches, and there aren’t many teams that will have a mismatch against the Wildcats.

What’s that mean?

You may be able to stifle Arizona on the offensive end of the floor, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to score on them.

Latest Posts
  1. Colorado gets a commitment from Class of 2016 guard

    Jan 27, 2015, 6:00 PM EST

    Tad Boyle AP

    Colorado gets another guard in the 2016 class.

  2. Akron to play second-annual ‘Purple Out’ in purple uniforms to help raise pancreatic cancer awareness

    Jan 27, 2015, 5:00 PM EST

    (Akron Athletics) (Akron Athletics)

    Akron is having its second-annual “Purple Out” against Ball State to help raise pancreatic cancer awareness.

  3. Duke releases awesome ‘mixtape’ to celebrate Coach K’s 1,000th win (VIDEO)

    Jan 27, 2015, 4:00 PM EST

    You sometimes forget just how good some of the Duke guards were throughout the years. Here’s a reminder.

  4. New Mexico governor donates $10,000 to Lobo star’s charity

    Jan 27, 2015, 3:33 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Hugh Greenwood made headlines last week for responding to an online troll.

  5. Dan Patrick Show: Coach K talks 1,000 wins, most important player (VIDEO)

    Jan 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EST

    Mike Krzyzewski AP

    Can you guess who the most important player in program history was?

  6. Winter Storms postponing a few college basketball games (UPDATED)

    Jan 27, 2015, 9:16 AM EST

    Ed Cooley (AP Photo) AP

    DePaul may have to reschedule their trip to Providence.

  7. Late Night Snacks: Iowa State tops Texas in top-25 Big 12 battle; North Carolina beats Syracuse

    Jan 26, 2015, 11:45 PM EST

    Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Marcus Paige AP

    North Carolina and Iowa State earned conference home wins on Monday night.

  8. No. 15 Iowa State holds on to beat No. 19 Texas

    Jan 26, 2015, 11:22 PM EST

    Isaiah Taylor, Monte Morris AP

    Iowa State bounced back from a loss against Texas Tech with a big home win over Texas.

  9. Ineligible UCLA freshman forward now allowed to practice with the team

    Jan 26, 2015, 10:00 PM EST

    FIBA FIBA

    UCLA should get a boost in practice with the addition of a four-star freshman forward to its roster.

  10. BYU starting forward could be held out for the rest of 2014-15 season

    Jan 26, 2015, 9:00 PM EST

    Nate Austin AP

    BYU might be without a key frontcourt piece for the rest of the season.

  11. Report: Wake Forest transfer finds a new spot in the CAA

    Jan 26, 2015, 8:00 PM EST

    Wake Forest Demon Deacons v Arkansas Razorbacks Getty Images

    The son of a former NBA veteran is moving on to a CAA program from Wake Forest.

  12. Washington kicks talented shot blocking big man off the team

    Jan 26, 2015, 6:54 PM EST

    Robert Upshaw (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Washington loses one of the most talented shot blockers in the nation.

  13. Pregame Shootaround: A top-25 Big 12 clash highlights a slow Monday night

    Jan 26, 2015, 6:00 PM EST

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwrjywuxywyyywu3mjy5mddjotbkn2i1nzqynjq3zdhk AP

    Not a lot going on Monday night, but still some great games to check out.

  14. Maryland gets a commitment from top-150 point guard in 2016 class

    Jan 26, 2015, 5:00 PM EST

    Mark Turgeon AP

    Maryland grabs an impact point guard in the 2016 class.

  15. Indiana’s Robert Johnson injured, cheerleaders’ folders to blame?

    Jan 26, 2015, 3:52 PM EST

    Maryland v Indiana Getty Images

    Johnson landed awkwardly against Ohio State and may have to miss some time.

  16. Videos of all the wild finishes from an insane weekend in college hoops

    Jan 26, 2015, 12:49 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    A recap of the nine craziest finishes from your college hoops weekend.