Disclaimer: Today’s article was written shortly after consuming five tablespoons of NyQuil
I'm anxiously waiting for the day when Arizona is on a 3-on-1 fastbreak with high-risers Gabe York and Nick Johnson filling the lanes.
I took a sunset drive up the coast this evening for no other reason than to take a sunset drive up the coast, and heck if it didn't feel great. The funny thing is of all the places my mind could wander to while cruising down Pacific Coast Highway, the one thought my brain settled on was how great it would be if there was a cable channel dedicated exclusively to Leonardo DiCaprio movies. Seriously, I would be riveted seven days a week.
On the matter of sports, Arizona hit a highpoint in their intensity level, beating up on the lowly USC Trojans 74-50 Saturday. Arizona’s effort on both ends of the floor begs the question, where was that effort against UCLA on national television Thursday night? It’s a fair question, one with arguably no answer. You know, one of those “the truth lies just beyond the corner of the eye” things. Regardless, if Arizona expects to be a top 10 team failure to come out of the locker room ready to play is a no-no. Opponents are itching to stare down and beat up the Wildcats as teams are giving it the old college try against highly-ranked Arizona. Those pesky Arizona State Sun Devils were trying to push and shove the Wildcats for 40 minutes despite still losing by 17 points. Colorado was delivering haymaker after haymaker in Tucson before finally succumbing to the Wildcats in overtime. Oregon and UCLA did knock down Arizona, but despite still being 17-2 this season the road to victory has not come easy for these Wildcats.
On Saturday, Arizona dismantled the Trojans from the opening tip racing out to an 18-4 advantage and building a 31-point lead before settling on the 24-point victory. That is how it’s done folks. Conversely, against UCLA, it was the Bruins leading 19-3 early on Arizona’s home court. Taking nothing away from UCLA, the difference in the two outcomes was effort. Arizona looked lackadaisical on Thursday and played a little too carefree against a very solid opponent. The end result was a bad loss. Saturday, the Wildcats played with passion and more importantly purpose to produce the blowout win. Moving forward, Arizona needs to stop resting on its laurels and instead compete for 40 minutes. If they do they’ll prove to be one of the toughest beats in the country.
A positive for the team due its renewed energy and efficient execution against USC was the return of bench players Angelo Chol and freshman Gabe York to the lineup. While Chol has played spot minutes throughout the season, York hadn’t touched the floor in the new calendar year. Not-so-shockingly, York looked as smooth as ever, calming burying a baseline trey off a low block screen minutes after entering the game. He also knocked down a deep trey off a pick and pop that had many fans wondering where this guy has been all season. This too is a fair question, one my alter ego and I are going to debate in true Friday Fizz fashion:
The Fizz: I can see why York hasn’t been playing.
Randazzo: Oh really. This should be interesting because I couldn’t disagree more.
The Fizz: Look, Sean Miller is a defensive coach and his guys need to learn to play his brand of defense before seeing the floor. York obviously has work to do on that end of the floor.
Randazzo: True, Miller is a defensive coach and defense is a critical element to Arizona’s success. However, so is scoring. I can’t even count how many times the Wildcats have shot less than 42% from the floor in a half this season. One would think that bringing in an offensive spark plug to ignite the team would be wise, even if it’s for only 2-3 minutes per half. York played seven minutes last night and scored seven points. What more do you want?
I have no doubt Sean Miller knows exactly what he is doing at all times.
The Fizz: Yes, but if Gabe’s not winning defensive battles in practice then he could be a liability. What if York isn’t hitting shots? Then what?
Randazzo:To borrow one of the more famous rhetorical questions to ever escape Allen Iverson’s lips, “Practice, we talkin’ about practice? Practice?” Seriously, yes practice is important and I do believe that we all play like we practice. However, every report I get out of Arizona’s practices are that York is consistently one of the best scorers on the roster. Further, the reports I’m getting aren’t all that dire for York on the defensive end of the floor. Yes, there’s some issues, notably his off-ball court awareness, but it’s amazing how well an offensive player can suddenly begin to play solid defense when his shots are falling. Believe me, I wasn’t the greatest defender in my day, but if I was “on” in a game, suddenly I’m stepping into charges, diving for loose balls and riding ball handlers up the court side to side. You wrote about Arizona playing with energy earlier. Well, nothing fuels defense like a big basket.
The Fizz: You’re giving yourself too much credit. Remember, I was there. Still, I see your point. Well, what about York’s strength? He’s easily 15 pounds lighter than any Wildcat in the rotation.
Randazzo: Fair point, and Miller does like his guys strong, but all the freshmen aside from Kaleb Tarczewski need one more off season of intense weightlifting and conditioning. Besides, last time I checked the Wildcats are starting a backcourt with two guys no taller than 6-foot-2. Slipping York some minutes won’t put Arizona at much of a disadvantage. In fact, I’ll make the case right now that playing York would be a boon for the club. Forget disadvantage. He’s an advantage all the way.
The Fizz: You know as well as I do that the Friday Fizz mascots go head-to-head at least once a day. One’s 12 pounds and the other weighs six pounds. The 12-pounder beats the living crap out of the six-pounder every single time.
Randazzo: Let’s try and keep our eye on the ball here and leave the Shih Tzu and Maltese out of it. What is one of Arizona’s biggest problems on offense this season? In fact, what is the most common problem college offenses experience in every game?
The Fizz: Educate me, the NyQuil is really kicking in.
Randazzo: Floor spacing. What does a deadly jump shooter like York create for the team when he’s on the court? Spacing. This isn’t brain surgery. Opponents have been able to run second defenders in help rotation at Arizona’s three primary scorers Mark Lyons, Nick Johnson and Solomon Hill all season, particularly when they’re on a dribble attack. You put someone with York’s shooting ability on the strong side wing or better the baseline corner and suddenly that help defense is not helping at all. Similarly, you put York on the wing with a scoring big on the low block and again you eliminate the low post double team. Not only will York’s man not sag down to help on the low block, it also becomes risky for a team to send the double team from the opposite block because if York were to release a shot, the Wildcats would then have an advantage to rebound a miss, which more often than not bounces off the rim on the weak side of the floor.
Nick Johnson has emerged as Arizona's most consistent player.
The Fizz: Well…
Randazzo: Well, what? The other night following the UCLA loss, in-game color analyst Matt Muehlbach was asked on the post game radio broadcast what a team needs when they’re shooting so poorly from the field. Muehlbach confidently said you need a guy capable of coming off the bench and knocking down a shot or two to rally the team. For the life of me why Arizona denies itself the potential York offers by entering the game and not only stretching the defense somewhat but having a better than average chance of making them pay by sinking a 3-Pointer dagger is eating at me.
The Fizz: Okay, fine, but then who does he come in for?
Randazzo: Tough question. It’s not my intention to discredit anything any of the Wildcats are doing on the floor. All are playing hard, and admittedly all have earned the minutes they’re getting. However, we’re talking about 5-7 total minutes per game I’d like to see York get. Believe me when I say there are plenty of mental lapses, ill-advised shots, turnovers and defensive errors being committed by everyone on the floor to spell someone – even if just for a minute to send a message to the player. Those teaching/disciplinary moments can serve as York’s minutes. While someone like Lyons is in the corner counting to 10 for shooting one of those step-back three-pointers he’s so fond of, York could be knocking down a trey and getting his teammates fired up.
The Fizz: Yeah, but Miller’s an excellent coach. He clearly knows what he’s doing and what he’s trying to accomplish with this team.
Randazzo: No doubt, and there’s little doubt he’s smarter than you and I combined. I don’t question his coaching ability one iota. What I do know, though, is Arizona is getting very little scoring from its bench the past month, or at best inconsistent scoring. Relying solely on Kevin Parrom for offensive firepower won’t be enough for the Wildcats to accomplish their goals this season. Further, every team needs a wrinkle as the season drags on. York could be that wrinkle during the second round of the Pac-12 slate and something in my gut tells me he’ll get the opportunity to be exactly that as the season unfolds.
FADE TO BLACK
Interestingly, President Barrack Obama factored into the sports world this week. In released notes from an interview with the The New Republic Obama commented about the physical safety of football players at the NCAA and NFL level and how the game will likely change over time due to concerns over prolonged and sometimes fatal head injuries. My favorite quote has Obama saying this about himself and the millions of other football fans: "And those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much.” I don’t even know where to begin. Sigh…deep breaths, deep breaths.
On a happier note, I’m sitting at a blackjack table in Las Vegas last Sunday and this young guy takes a seat at first base. Says he’s from Kansas. Being the fun-loving, socialite I am I say, “Ah, a Jayhawk.” He laughs and I bring up the idea that Arizona and Kansas basketball need to figure out a way to meet each other on the court more often considering the great rivalry we’ve had in the past 25 years. This toilet paper roll replies, “What rivalry, how many NCAA championships does Arizona have?” I channel my inner chi and calmly say, “We’ve got one title but KU would have two more if it wasn’t for Arizona.” Needless to say the Jayhawk and I didn’t converse much over the next hour.
Before I close, I would like to clear the air on a recent debate several posters and I have been having on the website regarding Miller’s propensity to exclusively play man-to-man defense and whether or not Arizona should zone up opposing teams every now and again. For the record, I’m not opposed to zone defenses even though I think they’re for shapeshaggers and teams incapable of getting into a defensive stance and actually playing man-to-man defense. Still, my disagreement with several posters is not regarding zone defense or man defense. Instead, I take issue with the idea that “only” great coaches mix up their defenses throughout every game. This is factually incorrect and has been proven with, well, facts. It’s not my place to disagree with Arizona fans that would like to see the occasional zone look, particularly on an under the basket out of bounds play. Heck, I would support the latter, especially coming out of a timeout to try and trick the offense out of the play their coach just designed on the white board, but let’s keep things real here. Some of the broad sweeping generalizations are giving me heartburn and I’ve got too many other problems to add heartburn to the list.
By the way, that red wine I had with the beef jerky a while back was a Malbec, and oh, I charged the bill to the Underhills.
Bear Down, Everyone! And Bear Down, Arizona!