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.
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.