Wisconsin v Arizona

It was Arizona’s defense that failed them in a loss to Wisconsin

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When you think of this Arizona team, the first thing that you think of is their defense.

They ranked No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and they have arguably the three-best individual defenders in the country in Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Nick Johnson. With the size and athleticism that’s present on that roster, it’s no wonder that the Wildcats were able to lock up defensively.

And it the end, it’s what cost them a trip to the Final Four.

“Frank Kaminsky is the reason they’re going to the Final Four,” Sean Miller said after the game, and he’s exactly right.

Arizona lost 64-63 to No. 2 seed Wisconsin in overtime, but you don’t have to be a basketball savant to know what the difference in the game was. Kaminsky had 28 points and 11 boards, seven of which came on the offensive end of the floor. He hit threes. He scored on post-ups. He played like a guy that knows that there are NBA scouts watching the nation’s best defensive team, and boy, did he make a statement.

And Arizona simply did not have an answer for him.

They tried everything. Kaleb Tarczewski couldn’t get out to Kaminsky’s threes quick enough without allowing the big fella to attack his close outs. Gordon tried to guard him, but Kaminsky’s power in the post was too much. They tried sitting Tarczewski and playing Gordon at the five, switching all screens and using Nick Johnson to front Kaminsky with help over the top.

Nothing worked.

Here’s the thing: it will be easy to simply say that Arizona’s issues on the offensive end of the floor are what did them in, but it doesn’t work like that. For starters, what stagnated their offense, more than anything, was the fact that they lost Brandon Ashley to a broken foot back in January. Since then, Arizona turned into a team that relied almost entirely on transition buckets and offensive rebounds for scoring, with the occasional big jumper from Nick Johnson thrown into the mix. They’re a team built around next-level athletes with a penchant for being in the right place at the right time and the aggressive to go get a rebound or a loose ball in a crowd.

That’s who they were, which is why it shouldn’t be all that surprising that T.J. McConnell, Johnson and Gordon combined to shoot 11-for-38 from the floor. This team was designed to withstand those nights.

Because, in theory, they were matchup proof defensively.

Their defense was supposed to be inexploitable.

That was before they ran into Frank the Tank.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.