Arizona Basketball Showcases Nation's Best Defense at Pac-12 Tournament

By Casey Gagnon
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not so much that the Arizona Wildcats have faced poor teams thus far at the 2014 Pac-12 Conference tournament in Las Vegas. Their two opponents thus far, the Utah Utes in Thursday’s quarterfinal, and the Colorado Buffaloes in Friday’s semifinal, both boast more than 20 wins in a highly competitive conference. The Buffaloes are almost certainly headed to the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid, and the Utes might procure an invite to the Big Dance as well. So why then, did the Wildcats trounce the Utes by a 71-39 final score, then batter the Buffaloes 63-43? Why did they hold the Utes to only 13 points in the first half on Thursday and the Buffaloes to only 19 points in the second half on Friday? Why did the Wildcats hold both teams to under 30 percent shooting?

The answer is simple — the Wildcats are that good, good enough that the Big Dance might be more of a waltz for coach Sean Miller‘s defensive shutdown squad. The Utes’ Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge entered the tournament collectively averaging just over 30 points per game, but the Wildcats held both scoreless in the first half, and the tandem finished with only seven points combined on an anemic 1-for-14 shooting. The Buffaloes’ Josh Scott ventured to Vegas with 13 double-doubles on the season, but against the Wildcats, he only mustered four points and two rebounds on only 2-for-9 shooting.

Even the most finely tuned offensive machine of a college basketball player can suddenly malfunction upon an encounter with the Wildcats, who are projected as the No. 1 seed overall in this year’s tournament, provided they turn in one last stalwart outing in Saturday’s Pac 12 championship game against the UCLA Bruins. It’s an opportunity for the Wildcats to further display their defensive prowess against the conference’s top ranked offensive team, a team that shot more than 65 percent in their semifinal rout of the Stanford Cardinal. If the Wildcats’ defense can also shut down the Bruins’ offensive attack, odds are even slimmer that any team the Wildcats may encounter in the NCAA tournament will find success putting enough points on the board to play spoiler.

Casey Gagnon is a writer for based in the Phoenix area. You can follow him on Twitter @SportsCasey, “like” him on Facebook, and add him to your network on Google.

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