Teams adjusting to size of Arizona's basketball team
Solomon Hill is a natural small forward.
At 6-foot-7 and with ball-handling, passing, shooting and rebounding ability, he’s a perfect fit at the three. At that height, he’s too undersized to play power forward, a fact that’s been driven home ever since the Wildcats added four players taller than him to their rotation this season.
He played power forward last year due to a lack of size on the team, which had a 6-foot-7 Jesse Perry starting at center.
With freshmen Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski, along with sophomore Angelo Chol, Arizona has four players ranging from 6-foot-8 to 7-feet.
“It adds a different dynamic to our team,” Hill said. “We’re not going small, we’re always going to be big.”
That didn’t last very long.
In Sunday’s 82-73 win against Charleston Southern, Hill wound up at power forward for much of the second half, and some of the first, in large part because Charleston Southern’s matchup zone defense and emphasis on guard play negated the Wildcats’ size advantage.
Hill still had a solid game, finishing with 14 points, five rebounds, two assists and one block.
“Solomon knows how to play the four for what you would call special situations,” head coach Sean Miller said. “That would be more late game, end of game, ball-handling or defense. But we did that [play him at the four] more tonight. That’s the value of having someone like Solomon on your team.”
For most of the last eight minutes of the game, the Wildcats went with a lineup of Mark Lyons at the one, Nick Johnson and Kevin Parrom at the two and three, Hill at the four and a 6-foot-8 Ashley at the five.
The Wildcats’ three leading rebounders were Ashley with eight, and Hill and Parrom with five a piece.
The 6-foot-9 Chol, 6-foot-10 Jerrett and 7-foot Tarczewski combined for seven rebounds in 47 minutes and the Wildcats were out-rebounded by the Buccaneers 34-31.
“From an offensive perspective with the zone it was tricky for a lot of the young frontcourt players,” Miller said. “Kaleb and Grant are going to have a ton of games where they play great. [Sunday] wasn’t their night.”
It wasn’t the performance expected from a team that should outsize the majority of its opponents, but a large part of the disappointment came as a result of Charleston Southern’s talented backcourt, in addition to the zone defense.
“It was kind of a matchup zone,” said senior guard Mark Lyons.
“They were guarding everyone individually but at the same time rotating well enough that we couldn’t get the ball in the post.”
Perhaps the biggest reason the Wildcats were able to overcome its big men struggles was by calling Ashley off the bench.
Miller has said he’s developing Ashley as a power forward with the intent of moving him permanently to small forward in the future.
If more team’s wind up playing zone akin to the one CSU ran, which Johnson said he expects to happen, the Wildcats might rely on a small lineup more often than most would have thought in the preseason. And that might call for more time at the five for Ashley, who scored 12 points and blocked two shots.
“Brandon stepped up,” Miller said. “He was the one big guy when we went small and we moved him to the five, which he hasn’t played a whole lot. But with his instincts he made basketball plays.”
The Wildcats outscored the Buccaneers in the paint 27-22, but Arizona learned in a big way that outside shooting might be the only way to counteract teams that prevent it from utilizing its size advantage.
The UA attempted 32 3-pointers, making 11, which was just six attempts away from the school record. Hill and Jordin Mayes combined to shoot 6-of-12 from beyond, while the rest of the roster shot just 5-of-20.
“I didn’t even know we shot that many,” said Lyons, who shot 2-of-8 from beyond the arc in the season opener. “We shot a lot of threes, but we have great shooters capable of making shots, so it’s just a matter of making them.”