Sean Miller

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Looking Forward: Defense will help Arizona sort out loaded rotation

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind let’s take a look at Arizona, an elite program that reloads with designs on erasing the bad memories of last year’s first round NCAA tournament exit. 

After going on a two-year run in which they went 67-9, won two Pac-12 regular season titles and made two Elite Eight appearances, Arizona took a step back in 2015-16. Sean Miller’s Wildcats saw their grip on the Pac-12 loosen, with Oregon taking advantage, and their NCAA tournament stay was a short one thanks to a tough Wichita State team. Many programs would sign up for a season that included 25 wins despite injuries to freshmen Ray Smith (torn ACL) and Allonzo Trier (broken hand).

But Arizona isn’t your “run of the mill” program, which is a testament not only to what the retired Lute Olson accomplished during his time in Tucson but to what Sean Miller’s managed to do as well. Since his arrival Miller’s pumped new life into the program, with Arizona racking up highly regarded recruiting classes and the wins to match.

All that’s missing from his time at Arizona is a trip to the Final Four, an accomplishment Arizona hasn’t been able to boast since 2001. And after last year’s disappointing finish, Arizona’s work on the recruiting trail in the spring has them in a position where they can get that done. There’s talent, depth and versatility on the roster heading into the 2016-17 season, with some key returnees being joined by one of the nation’s best recruiting classes.

And with that will come an important question for the Wildcats: how will they sort everything out from a rotation standpoint?

Competition within the ranks is hardly a bad thing; “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The same can be said for versatility, which will be another positive trait for Arizona in 2016-17. At first glance the roster has just two players seemingly locked into one specific position: Parker Jackson-Cartwright at point guard and Dusan Ristic at center. Outside of that, Arizona boasts a host of players capable of filling multiple spots based upon the desires of their head coach and the flow of the game.

The front court includes a mobile 7-footer in sophomore Chance Comanche, who managed to earn more consistent appearances down the stretch thanks to his activity on the defensive end of the floor. Newcomers in Lauri Markkanen and Keanu Pinder who can fill multiple roles in the front court, with Markannen’s ability to step out and hit perimeter shots being especially key, and the same can be said of the talented Smith provided there are no lingering effects from his second ACL tear in as many years.

With the injury and the time away from live action Smith will likely have some rust to shake off, but this is something Arizona can work through given their depth. There’s role versatility and this sets up to be a more mobile group defensively as well, which can only help the Wildcats moving forward.

The bigger area for Arizona from an options standpoint is on the perimeter, as they’re loaded with established returnees and high-caliber newcomers. And with the players available, how everything shakes out with regards to roles and minutes that come with them will be very interesting to watch. Trier’s back after a successful freshman season in which he averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 46.6 percent from the field, and with his ability to attack defenses off the dribble he’ll figure prominently in the Arizona rotation again in 2016-17.

Also returning are Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who shared the point guard duties with Allen getting the starting nod thanks in large part to his ability on the defensive end of the floor. Losing Gabe York, who was second on the team in scoring and Arizona’s best three-point shooter a season ago, can’t be overlooked. But with the additions to the program, Arizona can more than account for the production lost there.

Last year Trier was the Wildcat best capable of attacking defenses off the bounce, but even with the relative “lack” of such options Arizona still managed to average 80 points per game and shoot 48 percent from the field. Things will be a bit different in 2016-17, thanks to factors such as the loss of York and Ryan Anderson and the fact that they’ll have more players capable of breaking down opponents off the dribble. Freshmen Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins and Terrance Ferguson can all create shots via dribble penetration, with Ferguson also being one of the top shooters in the class of 2016.

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 30: Terrance Ferguson #6 of the East  team goes up for a dunk against the West team during the 2016 McDonalds's All American Game on March 30, 2016 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Terrance Ferguson (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

But could this turn out to be a case of having too much of a good thing? While considered a point guard, Simmons proved to be better at getting himself looks than doing so for others, and Alkins was also considered to be a “ball dominant” guard at the high school level. How will that change at the college level, and how will the pieces fit together within Arizona’s rotation?

These are important questions to address, and how Arizona can do that is on the defensive end of the floor.

After two straight seasons of producing defenses that ranked in the top three in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers (first in 2014, third in 2015), Arizona was ranked 41st in that category last season. After two consecutive seasons of limiting teams to less than 40 percent shooting from the field, Arizona allowed teams to shoot 41.3 percent in 2015-16. Also of concern was the turnover department, with teams committing an average of just 11.4 per game against the Wildcats last season.

By comparison, those two Elite Eight teams managed to force an average of 13.8 turnovers per game in 2013-14 and 12.4 per contest in 2014-15. The pack line defense isn’t one that people would necessarily categorize as a “pressure” system, but one of the strengths for Arizona during those two Elite Eight runs was having athletic options on the wings who can make life difficult for passers and the players looking to receive those passes. That wasn’t the case last season, but it may not be a problem in 2016-17 thanks to the roster additions.

Ferguson’s athleticism is noted above, and he’s also a long-armed player who more than holds his own defensively. Alkins also has the physical tools needed to cause trouble on the wing, which will give Arizona a good shot at playing defense at the level we grew accustomed to seeing them reach.

Physical tools aside, there’s always the “carrot” of playing time to dangle in front of the players. When discussing the adjustment process for freshmen many rush to the offensive end, and that’s understandable to a certain extent. But the biggest adjustment comes on the other end of the floor, and being able to prove that you can defend your position and carry out the team’s defensive game plan.

Arizona will certainly have offensive talent across the board next season. But the reason why they can rebound from last season and possibly reach the Final Four is the fact that some of that talent will make a difference defensively as well.

Hutchinson CC forward Pinder commits to Arizona

Arizona head coach Sean Miller reacts to a foul call against the Southern California during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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After a relatively quiet fall recruiting period, Arizona’s managed to reel in a host of highly regarded recruits this spring. Sunday, Sean Miller and his staff landed another commitment, as Hutchinson CC forward Keanu Pinder committed to the Pac-12 program. Pinder, a native of Australia who previously made commitments to Nebraska and New Mexico, visited Arizona recently and also took a trip to NC State this spring.

The 6-foot-8 Pinder averaged 10.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game at Hutchinson this season, and he was one of four double-digit scorers on a team that won 32 games and reached the title game of the NJCAA Division I tournament.

Pinder is the seventh newcomer in Arizona’s 2016 class, with UNC Asheville transfer Dylan Smith being the lone addition who will not be available to play next season. On the perimeter the Wildcats reloaded with Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins, Terrance Ferguson and Talbott Denny, with Denny being immediately eligible after transferring in from Lipscomb.

And in the front court Pinder joins power forward Lauri Markkanen, with redshirt freshman Ray Smith ready to go after sitting out all of last season with a torn ACL. Pinder and Markannen are important in that they provide needed skill and depth to a front court that returns Smith, Dusan Ristic and Chance Commanche from last season’s team.

News of Pinder’s commitment was first reported by

No. 8 Oregon holds on for 95-89 OT win over No. 15 Arizona

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, right, reacts with guards Tyler Dorsey (5) and Casey Benson (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arizona in the semifinals of the Pac-12 men's tournament Friday, March 11, 2016, in Las Vegas. Oregon won in overtime, 95-89. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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LAS VEGAS (AP) Elgin Cook scored 22 points and No. 8 Oregon survived a wild closing sequence in regulation to beat No. 15 Arizona 95-89 in overtime Friday night in the Pac-12 semifinals.

Oregon (27-6) led by 17 early in the second half, but Arizona (25-8) charged back and tied it in improbable fashion.

Oregon’s Chris Boucher missed two free throws with 12 seconds left, and Arizona’s Gabe York followed with a 3-pointer after gathering a rebound. Mark Tollefsen stole the inbound pass and was fouled, but hit just 1 of 2 free throws to send the game to overtime.

The Ducks dominated overtime, going up six on 3-pointers by Dwayne Benjamin and Dillon Brooks to earn a spot in Saturday night’s championship game against No. 24 California or No. 12 Utah.

Tyler Dorsey had 19 points and Brooks 17 for the Ducks, who had 11 blocked shots and 10 steals.

No. 15 Arizona holds on to beat Colorado 82-78 at Pac-12

Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski, left, drives around Colorado forward Josh Scott during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 men's tournament Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Las Vegas. Arizona won 82-78. (AP Photo/John Locher)
AP Photo/John Locher

LAS VEGAS (AP) Arizona played a near-flawless first half, pouring in shots, shutting Colorado down, threatening to turn the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal into a blowout.

The momentum shifted dramatically in the second half as the Wildcats let up and the Buffaloes erased nearly all of a 22-point deficit.

The Wildcats held on to move on to the semifinals, but it was much harder than it needed to be.

Allonzo Trier scored 23 points, Ryan Anderson had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 15 Arizona held off Colorado 82-78 on Thursday.

“I guess if you’re the coach, you can look at it this way: Hey, everything’s fine. We’re in the semifinals against Oregon. Awesome job. We advanced. A lot of teams would have loved to,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “Or you can really say our effort level is as bad as I’ve ever seen in the last 20 minutes. I choose to focus on the second one.”

Arizona (25-7) has been plagued by inconsistency, only playing well for a half in many of its games.

Most games, the Wildcats struggle early and wear teams down late.

This time, they almost got run over.

Up 17 at halftime, Arizona watched as the Buffaloes raced past them for one offensive rebound after another – 25 in all – to chip away at the lead.

Colorado had the Wildcats on their heels and were within reach, pulling within two on George King’s 3-pointer with 3 seconds left.

Arizona managed to escape, pushing the lead to four on Gabe York’s two free throws, but will need to play a full game if it’s going to beat No. 8 Oregon in the semifinals Friday night.

“If you hold our team to the standards of the past at Arizona or you look at us as competing for this tournament’s championship, we’re not going to be able to advance and be the same team that we’ve been,” Miller said of his team only playing well for one half.

Colorado (22-11) clawed its way back from a huge hole by hitting the offensive glass, but couldn’t overcome its shaky shooting. The fifth-seeded Buffaloes shot 34 percent and made 5 of 19 from 3-point range, leaving their NCAA Tournament fate in the hands of the selection committee.

King had 22 points, and Josh Scott finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds for Colorado, which had 26 second-chance points.

“The one thing about our team is there is no give-up,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “They’ve got tremendous fight, tremendous resolve and I’m really proud of the comeback that we staged to get ourselves back in the game.”

Colorado opened the tournament with a dominating performance, beating Washington State 80-56 behind King’s 21-point night.

That earned the Buffaloes a shot at the Wildcats, who were itching for a rematch after losing in Boulder on Feb. 24.

Arizona rallied from a 10-point, second-half deficit in that game, but couldn’t make the plays down the stretch or stop Scott, who had a season-high 26 points.

The Wildcats turned the rematch into a rout from the opening tip.

Smothering the Buffaloes defensively, Arizona set up easy baskets in transition while opening with a 14-2 run, setting off a chant of “U of A!”

The Wildcats kept it rolling, building a 37-20 halftime lead York’s 11 points.

Colorado had more turnovers than field goals – nine to eight – and missed all six of its 3-point attempts.

“Our guys were down. They were disappointed,” Boyle said. “But, again, there is no quit in these guys. There wasn’t any question in my mind.”

He was right.

The Buffaloes found their rhythm a bit in the second half, gaining a surge a momentum midway through while cutting into Arizona’s lead.

Trier stemmed the tide briefly with a couple of athletic shots in transition, but Colorado fought back one more time, pulling to 64-57 on Scott’s three-point play with 5 minutes left.

The Buffaloes kept clawing back every time Arizona tried to pull away, but couldn’t make it all the way back, finishing just short.


Colorado: The Buffaloes had a 51-35 rebounding advantage. .. Colorado made 21 of 25 free throws.

Arizona: The Wildcats blocked 11 shots, including three by Anderson. … York finished with 15 points and Kadeem Allen had 12.


Colorado has to wait until Sunday to find out if it will play in the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona faces No. 8 Oregon in the semifinals Friday night.

No. 18 Arizona uses late rally to beat No. 25 California

Arizona guard Gabe York (1) reacts after Arizona defeated UCLA 81-75 during an NCAA college basketball game, Friday, Feb 12, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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While ranked within the top 20 of the national polls, No. 18 Arizona has a résumé that could use another quality victory when it comes to their NCAA tournament seeding. Add in the fact that they were swept on the road last week, and Thursday’s home game against No. 25 California was a critical contest for a team in need of some positive momentum.

It was a struggle for the Wildcats, but thanks to a game-ending 11-0 run sparked by senior guard Gabe York Arizona managed to pull out the 64-61 victory.

York, who didn’t score in the first half, racked up 19 points in the second half and hit three three-pointers during the decisive run. As a team Arizona shot 50 percent from the field in the second half, with York’s improved scoring serving as the spark the team needed offensively. And against a team that even with its recent hot streak remains a bit of a question mark away from Berkeley, that proved to be enough in the end.

However, the rebounding effort (or lack thereof) put forth by Arizona nearly cost them the game.

Arizona’s first-shot defense was very good, as Cal shot just 36.5 percent from the field on the night. But where the Golden Bears, most notably freshman Ivan Rabb, were able to get their points was on the offensive glass. Cal rebounded 47.4 percent of its available missed shots, converting 18 offensive rebounds into 28 second-chance points.

Arizona’s been one of the nation’s best on the defensive glass this season, but that wasn’t the case against a team that entered the game ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounding percentage. Add in stretches in both halves in which the ball seemed to stick and the player movement stalled offensively, and Arizona wasn’t at their best on this night.

Some nights it’s about finding a way to win even when things aren’t working as planned, and Arizona managed to do that Thursday night. But if Arizona is to have a shot at playing deep into the NCAA tournament, they’ll need to be more consistent than they’ve been in recent games.

No. 17 Arizona beats No. 23 USC, moves into tie atop Pac-12

Arizona head coach Sean Miller reacts to a foul call against the Southern California during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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Following a home loss to No. 11 Oregon January 28, a game in which their 49-game home win streak came to an end, No. 17 Arizona looked nothing like a team capable of winning a third consecutive Pac-12 title. But at the time they were playing without the injured Allonzo Trier, and since that defeat the Wildcats have won five straight games. Their most recent result was an 86-78 home win over No. 23 USC Sunday night, a result that moved Sean Miller’s team into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 with Oregon.

But while the game did show reasons why Arizona is more than capable of taking yet another Pac-12 title, it also showed the inconsistency that the Wildcats have fought to address throughout the season.

Arizona got off to a great start offensively against USC, getting just about whatever they wanted around the basket as they built a lead that reached 19 points late in the first half. Ryan Anderson made his first three shot attempts, with all three coming at the rim, and dribble penetration was working as well. But presented with the opportunity to land a decisive blow to start the second half, Arizona got complacent and that opened the door for a USC comeback.

The Wildcats settled for perimeter shots, and while some credit should be given to USC for their improved defense Arizona made things easier on the Trojans than they needed to be. Arizona has capable three-point shooters, with senior guard Gabe York being the best of the bunch. But when faced with a clear advantage on the offensive end of the floor they lost some discipline early in the second half, settling for contested looks as opposed to looking to the post feeds and dribble drives that were so successful at the game’s start.

“Coach always emphasizes that we get the ball inside early, try to get fouls on the other bigs, try to set the tone that way. For the most part, all year [the guards] have done a great job of starting the game that way,” Anderson said after the game. “And then once they start double-teaming, Parker, Gabe, Allonzo starting getting wide open shots and the game starts flowing for us. I thought that in the first half we were really flowing on offense and defense; we’ve just got to carry that over to the second half a lot better.”

USC managed to trim Arizona’s lead to two points but they were unable to get over the hump. Bennie Boatwright scored ten of his team-high 18 points in the second half, and both Jordan McLaughlin (11 second-half points) and Elijah Stewart (ten) were more productive in the second stanza as well. Arizona got back to attacking the paint offensively late, and with USC missing a couple opportunities to either tie the game or take the lead the Wildcats managed to put the game away.

York led four Wildcats in double figures with 17 points, and as a team Arizona shot 50 percent from the field and better than 56 percent inside of the arc on the night.

Arizona won’t get another shot at Oregon, but with five games remaining they’re in position to win another Pac-12 title. And as long as they look to take advantage of the areas in which they’re most successful, getting Anderson looks in the post and using dribble penetration from the likes of Trier, they’re more than capable of accomplishing that goal.

Arizona got away from that plan of attack early in the second half Sunday night, but managed to get back to what worked in closing the game out.