Defensive 'Cats claw way to semi-finals
LAS VEGAS-- One word kept haunting the Arizona men's basketball team this season—defense. However, on Thursday afternoon inside T-Mobile Arena the Wildcats figured out that they don't need to be a top-5 ranked defensive team, they just need to be a nuisance. They did just that in a 83-67 route of No.8 seed Colorado in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.
Arizona advanced to Friday's semi-final due to their aggressiveness in the passing lanes and hands in front of Buffalo offenders. 15 Colorado turnovers led to 19 Arizona points and the catalyst of that result was point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and forward Rawle Alkins.
Combined Jackson-Cartwright and Alkins had seven steals and contributed 26 points, most coming on the heels of break out attempts after Buffalo turnovers.
"Coach challenged me to set the tone today and I feel like I did that," Jackson-Cartwright said. "I just wanted to stay aggressive and I was able to get my hand on several passes today."
Though Alkins had some breakdowns defensively while guarding Colorado's George King, the sophomore displayed bursts all over the court on balls that seemed to be out of reach. The remnants of his foot injury that harbored his play earlier in the year appear to be completely gone, proven by his explosiveness athletically against Colorado.
11 of the 15 CU turnovers came by way of the steal against Arizona. Match the steals with blocks at the rim and a 36-27 rebound advantage and a team like the Wildcats can make it even tougher to beat them.
The second half was the backbreaker for Colorado. After fending off ASU on Wednesday, fatigue appeared to be a factor midway through the second half. Add in the chaotic way Arizona was defending and you get a 38.5 percent effort from the field shooting, down eight percent from the first half.
The Wildcats will need a similar effort Friday against UCLA. A rematch with the Bruins gives Arizona the opportunity to avenge one of its losses on the season, a February contest in McKale in which the Bruins man handled the Wildcats.
Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter