Arizona v Colorado

Arizona displays improved defensive effort in win over Colorado

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Even though they were an active participant in the Pac-12 race for the entire 18-game league schedule, something was missing for the Arizona Wildcats on most nights. What was missing was intensity on the defensive end of the floor, something that helped Sean Miller’s teams rank among the best in college basketball at defending the three-pointer in each of the two seasons prior.

If the Wildcats’ (25-6) defensive effort in the first half of their 79-69 Pac-12 quarterfinal victory over Colorado was any indication, Arizona is better equipped to win games in the NCAA tournament now than they were a couple weeks ago.

Arizona forced ten Colorado turnovers in the first half, converting those mistakes into 15 points as they took a 39-28 lead into the intermission. The Buffaloes (21-11) played much better in the second half, turning the ball over just three times, but the damage was already done as they could get no closer than two points in the final 20 minutes.

For the game Colorado shot 43.1% from the field, which is actually Arizona’s best defensive showing since limiting Washington to 30.8% shooting back on February 20.

Guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker combined to score 30 points for Colorado but they attempted 22 shots (making eight) in doing so.

From a percentage standpoint Arizona’s defensive outing is certainly a case of “baby steps,” but their improved activity on that end of the floor is something that Miller and his staff have been looking for. And Johnson, their best perimeter defender, led the way against a team that gave them trouble in both regular season meetings.

“It’s not always that you pitch a shutout defensively as much as how much your effort level can make the other team or other player work to score,” noted Miller.

“There is no question that [Johnson’s] talent and effort level on defense, that alone, made the game harder for their guards, not that their guards didn’t play well, but our effort level was where it needed to be to win. Many times our defense starts with Nick.”

Offensively the Wildcats were balanced with Nick Johnson leading three players in double figures with 18 points, and six Arizona players managed to score at least seven points.

But outside of their occasional bouts with turnovers, offense wasn’t the lingering concern for this group (they’re 23rd nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency according to kenpom.com). Friday will provide another test in this area as the Wildcats take on UCLA, which swept the season series, in the Pac-12 semifinals.

But regardless of the outcome the following remains true for Arizona: how far they end up going in the NCAA tournament will depend on how committed they are to getting stops.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown:

Niang, Morris lead No. 14 Iowa State past No. 24 Texas

Iowa State forward Georges Niang drives past Texas guard Tevin Mack, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After falling at Texas Tech for the second straight season midweek, No. 14 Iowa State needed to bounce back with No. 24 Texas visiting Hilton Coliseum. The return of Jameel McKay, who was suspended for two games, certainly helped the Cyclones and the play of Georges Niang and Monte Morris was key as well. But the biggest difference on this night was the fact that Iowa State was able to limit the effectiveness of Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor.

 

Taylor scored just nine points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field, and with Morris and Niang scoring 24 points apiece the Cyclones won by the final score of 85-75.

Taylor had multiple opportunities to make plays around the basket thanks to his ability to beat defenders off the bounce, but he struggled to finish. Add in a 0-for-4 night from three, and Texas’ most dangerous offensive option was unable to duplicate his performance in the first meeting between the two teams. In Texas’ 94-91 overtime win over the Cyclones January 12, Taylor scored 28 points and dished out six assists with just one turnover, shooting 11-for-17 from the field.

Four Longhorns finished in double figures, with Tevin Mack and Javan Felix scoring 18 apiece, but with Morris decisively winning the point guard matchup Texas was unable to pick up the win on the road.

For Iowa State the aforementioned tandem of Morris and Niang performed as they did in the first meeting, which should come as no surprise. What helped them, especially when it came to Texas attacking the basket, was the presence of McKay. McKay finished the game with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 22 minutes of action, and to have their best interior defender back on the floor certainly helped the Cyclones on this night.

With their lack of depth Iowa State’s margin for error is small, especially when it comes to foul trouble, injuries and disciplinary reasons. Even with Texas’ size advantage Iowa State outscored them in the paint 48-34, and McKay’s defensive ability factored into that. The Cyclones can put points on the board with the best of them, but at some point they’ll need to string together stops as the games get even bigger.

Iowa State managed to do that down the stretch, with Morris and Niang running the show offensively. And that’s a good formula to be able to rely upon as the season approaches its most important month.