Oregon State guard is among country's elite
Arizona has faced its fair share of elite guards this season.
From the nation’s third leading scorer Reggie Hamilton of Oakland University, to 18.7 point per game scorer and three-point maven Kenny Boynton of the University of Florida, to speedy 5-foot-7 USC point guard Maurice Jones, the Wildcats have collided with nearly every style of elite guard in the country.
So Arizona should be more than ready to take on Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham and his Pac-12 leading 17.6 points per game, right?
“Jared Cunningham, one of my favorite players in the country, does it on offense and defense and gives great effort,” said head coach Sean Miller. “He’s explosive and to me he’s one of the more talented guards that plays college basketball.”
Cunningham is a different type of guard than Hamilton, Boynton or Jones. At 6-foot-4, 194 pounds, he’s physical, athletic and has a knack for getting in the lane, as only three players in the country have attempted more free throws than Cunningham’s 138.
He’s averaging 8.6 free throw attempts per contest and put up 23 free tosses en route to a 37-point outburst against Texas earlier in the season. Needless to say, Arizona needs to keep him off of the charity stripe if it hopes to keep him in check.
“He can get you in foul trouble,” Solomon Hill said of Cunningham. “(Kyle) Fogg has to limit his free throw attempts. If Fogg gets in early foul trouble then it puts pressure on our backcourt.”
But Cunningham doesn’t just get to the line. He can finish at the rim, convert in the mid-range game, create for his teammates and thrive in transition, all of which Arizona is well aware of.
Hill said he remembers when Cunningham dunked over Nic Wise two seasons ago in McKale Center. Cunningham did it again last season as he slammed home an Oregon State miss over Jesse Perry in Corvallis, Ore.
“Certain plays like that you don’t forget, you just try and make sure you’re not the one that’s in the next highlight,” Hill said.
Fogg, Arizona’s defensive stopper, and the rest of the Wildcats will have their hands full with Cunningham, who figures to test UA’s perimeter defense early and often. He’s scored in double digits in every OSU game but two this season, including two 30-plus point efforts. How does Arizona plan on stopping the explosive junior?
“It’s just team defense. When he wants to drive the gaps somebody’s got to help out, it can’t be one-on-one,” said Solomon Hill. “(Kyle) Fogg got in trouble like that against Maurice Jones. Maurice is a much quicker point guard but the fact that Fogg was playing one-on-one with him put us at a disadvantage.”
While Arizona has to worry about Cunningham’s offense, the Wildcats also have to keep tabs on his quick hands, as he ranks third in the country in steals per game with 2.9.
The junior out of Oakland, Calif., is developing into one of the more complete guards in the game, and he has major help running with him as well.
Cunningham is certainly obstacle No. 1 on Arizona’s scouting report, but the Beavers have a handful of explosive players to help carry the load, most notably Cunningham’s backcourt mate, Ahmad Starks.
With Cunningham taking on the role of primary ball handler and Starks more of a distributor and playmaker, Arizona has its hands full with Oregon State’s two-guard attack.
“They actually play completely differently. Ahmad is really a point guard who can shoot the ball really well and Jared is a shooting guard who actually is setting up our guys based on how he’s getting played,” said Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson. “We’re much further ahead than I thought we’d be at this point in time because of the two of those guys.”
Top opposing guards
SG Reggie Hamilton (Oakland) — 31 points, 6 assists and 7 TOs vs. UA
SG Kenny Boynton (Florida) — 9 points, 3 assists, 2-11 shooting vs. UA
PG Erving Walker (Florida) — 14 points, 5 assists, 3-16 shooting vs. UA
PG Maurice Jones (USC) — 14 points, 3 steals, 3-13 shooting vs. UA
PG Lazeric Jones (UCLA) — 13 points, 4 assists, 5-16 shooting vs. UA
PG Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga) — 11 points, 8 assists, 1-9 shooting vs. UA