Freshman Angelo Chol making his presence known for Wildcats
Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat
Arizona Wildcats basketball first half action against the Stanford Cardinal from Maples Pavilion on the campus of Stanford University in Stanford, Calif.
PALO ALTO, Calif. — Arizona’s perimeter defense is among the best in the country.
Opportunities to get into the lane against the Wildcats come at a premium, and knocking down 3-pointers is even more trying. Opponents shoot a lowly 26.7 percent from three against the Wildcats, good for fourth-best in the NCAA.
At 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-9.5 wingspan, senior guard Kyle Fogg is one of the conference’s top defensive guards. Freshman Nick Johnson isn’t far behind him, and point guard Josiah Turner is no slouch either as he ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in steals.
Add in Arizona head coach Sean Miller’s intensity and emphasis on defense and it’s no surprise the Wildcats’ perimeter defense is up there with the best of them.
“We’re a very good defensive team and we’ve really proven that over the course of our long season,” Miller said.
But even with Arizona’s tough perimeter defense, there’s been a missing piece to the puzzle. Both Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill are playing out of position, and Arizona needed a true center to alter shots, patrol the paint and clean the glass.
Enter freshman Angelo Chol.
The 6-foot-9, 217-pound freshman from San Diego emerged against Cal and Stanford this past weekend. He stepped in for Kevin Parrom, who’s out for the season, to average five points, 2.5 rebounds and three blocks in 18 minutes. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, Chol’s impact goes well beyond the box score.
“The way he’s been right now, it’s a huge difference on the defensive end,” Fogg said of Chol. “Guys see him block one shot, throw it into the second row, you think twice before you drive it in there and lay it up. That’s a huge impact that a lot of people may not realize that he has on the floor.”
Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins saw Chol’s performance against Cal, and told his team to prepare for his low-post defensive presence.
“He has really good timing, he’s active and he makes good plays,” Dawkins said he told his team. “He’s a shot-blocker.”
Stanford was unable to avoid Chol, however as he swatted four shots in 20 minutes, and his contributions were especially important due to the foul trouble of Solomon Hill and Jesse Perry.
“You can really sense the difference when he’s in on defense right now,” Miller said of Chol. “He’s able to really block shots right now and affect shots.”
Not only does Chol help defend the paint, he keeps opponents off of the glass by forcing bad shots and creating better rebounding opportunities for Arizona.
It’s no coincidence Arizona outrebounded Stanford, the conference’s third best rebounding team in terms of rebound differential, 43-40 when Chol had one of his better games.
“He’s a force,” Hill said. “Chol emerging, giving us 15, 20 minutes, is going to help us out a lot as far as rebounding, blocking shots.”
Chol also makes Arizona a much more traditional team. When he’s on the floor, Perry, Hill and even Fogg, who’s been playing small forward, can slide to their natural positions, making UA much bigger and more natural.
“I love it,” Hill said of playing with Chol. “He puts me at the three and Jesse at the four. We can get more rebounds. It’s a really different lineup in there with me and Jesse because we have three guards and it’s really hard to rebound.”
As recent as the whiteout game against Washington, Chol was barely in the rotation.
But with Parrom out and Jordin Mayes on the mend, his window of opportunity has burst wide open.
“These games are huge for him,” Johnson said of Chol. “He had a few key blocks tonight, a layup, so it definitely was big. I’m looking forward to see what comes from that.”