It was raining threes for Arizona basketball against NAU
Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Last year, Arizona statistically had the best 3-point defense in the Pac-12, and one of the best in the country.
Leading up to Wednesday’s 93-50 win against NAU, the Wildcats were struggling defending the long ball. Through three games, their opponents hit a combined 29 3-pointers at a near-40 percent clip, the worst in the Pac-12.
NAU isn’t exactly a marquee opponent — it was 5-24 last year — but the Wildcats did a solid job defending from deep in holding the Lumberjacks to a 5-of-17 night, which included a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from NAU freshman Dewayne Russell to end the first half.
“Maybe that’s not NAU’s strength,” head coach Sean Miller said.
“We’ll play against teams that maybe shoot the ball better. We already have. But I can only go on what we do and we did a better job defending the three tonight then we have [been].”
Overall, Arizona was stellar defensively, holding the Lumberjacks to 24 second half points, most of which came with the game well out of reach in the waning moments.
Before two free throws from Blake Hamilton, NAU had just 11 points in the second half with 6:10 left.
“We wanted to chase them off the 3-point line, make them take more 2-point shots,” said freshman Brandon Ashley, who had a game-high 11 rebounds. “With our size inside, it would be a little bit harder for them to make two point shots.”
Nick Johnson, whom Miller recently cited as the Wildcats’ go-to on-the-ball defender, in particular was a defensive standout, finishing with four steals and holding Gabe Rogers, NAU’s best player, to 7 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
For all its struggles defending the three, Arizona has been spectacular shooting its own. The Wildcats converted on 12-of-21 attempts, or 57.1 percent, and four players had two or more long balls. Ignoring Grant Jerrett’s three misses and a garbage time missed jumper from walk-on Quinton Crawford, Arizona shot a ridiculous 70.1 percent. Nick Johnson attributes that to all the attention being paid to the Wildcats’ quartet of big men — Jerrett, Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Angelo Chol.
“They’re game-planning for them and we’re getting a lot of open threes,” Johnson said. “It’s just like practice, just knock it down.”
Kevin Parrom, who went 5-for-5 from deep against Long Beach State, hit his first two against the Lumberjacks before finally missing one midway through the second half.
Seniors Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill led the 3-point barrage, each hitting 3-of-4 for a combined 35 points.
Little-used senior Max Wiepking even got in on the action, hitting a 3-pointer in garbage time with Arizona leading by 45 points.
“From an offensive perspective, when you have 22 assists and make 12 threes, it’s tough to say a lot of negative things,” Miller said.