NCAA men's basketball: Badgers must solve Arizona’s defense to advance
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Wisconsin's players and coaches endured a jarring transition between the second and third rounds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Wisconsin’s players and coaches endured a jarring transition between the second and third rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
In the opener, Wisconsin had to deal with American’s precise and methodical Princeton offense. With one day to prepare, Wisconsin then had to contend with Oregon’s high-octane attack.
The No. 2-seeded Badgers (29-7) are in the midst of a similar adjustment as they prepare to face No. 1-seeded Arizona (33-4) at 7:49 p.m. today at the Honda Center.
Wisconsin dissected Baylor’s zone in the Sweet 16, but to earn a trip to the Final Four the Badgers will have to avoid getting overwhelmed by Arizona’s oppressive man-to-man defense.
“I think it’s the best half-court defensive team we played all year,” Wisconsin assistant Gary Close said. “I think they’re that good. . . . .
“They’re quick. They’re long. They’re physical. They’re committed. They play hard. They’re well-coached.”
The Wildcats are fourth nationally in field-goal percentage defense (38.0 percent), fifth nationally in scoring defense (58.4 ppg) and 55th in three-point defense (31.9 percent).
“Wanted to be a top-five defense,” point guard T.J. McConnell said, who had a critical steal late in the 70-64 victory over San Diego State in the regional semifinals. “We’ve been that for most of the year. We knew if we played defense we’d win . . . .
“It is the will to want to play defense and the will to win. And we’ve had that will all year. We need that will tomorrow for us to be successful.”
McConnell leads Arizona in steals at 1.8 per game and according to Close sets the tone by pressuring the ball. Guard Nick Johnson, listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, can guard any position other than center.
“He is a bear,” Close said.
Forward Aaron Gordon is more fundamentally sound on defense than most freshmen, and 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski generally protects the rim well.
“That won the game for them,” Close said of the defense the Wildcats played in ousting San Diego State. “They hang their hat on it. That’s why they won their championship. That’s why they’re still alive.”
Wisconsin can counter by spreading the floor with five scorers at all times.
However, Arizona’s defensive intensity is comparable to that of Michigan State’s, which held Wisconsin to 28 percent shooting and 26 points in the first half of the Big Ten semifinals.
“It comes down to us being aggressive,” Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson said. “If we let their defensive tenacity get under our skin, we won’t be able to do the things that we want to do.”
Turner analyst Steve Kerr raved about Wisconsin’s ball movement as the Badgers dismantled Baylor’s zone. However, he noted the defense waiting for Wisconsin is much more draining.
“I always loved playing against a zone,” Kerr said during the Thursday telecast. “Because there’s never any physical stress. You never really got worn down.
“It was just like solving a puzzle. All you’re doing is passing. And when you can figure out a zone and solve it, the game seems so incredibly easy.
“And that’s what it looks like for Wisconsin.”
The look will be different today.
“We’ve got to be fundamentally sound in terms of cutting and screening and passing,” Close said. “And then we’ve got to be aggressive. If we’ve got a shot that is our shot, we’ve got to take it with confidence.
“You’ve got to be aggressive because you may not get a whole lot of good looks.”