NCAA tournament: Arizona’s man-to-man concerns Wisconsin

By Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  • 
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Wisconsin’s players and coaches endured a jarring transition between the second and third rounds of the NCAA tournament.

In the opener, Wisconsin had to deal with American’s precise and methodical Princeton offense. With one day to prepare, Wisconsin then had to contend with Oregon’s high-octane attack.

The No. 2-seeded Badgers (29-7) are in the midst of a similar adjustment as they prepare to face No. 1-seeded Arizona (33-4) tonight.

Wisconsin dissected Baylor’s zone in the Sweet 16, but to earn a trip to the Final Four, the Badgers will have to avoid getting overwhelmed by Arizona’s oppressive man-to-man defense.

“I think it’s the best half-court defensive team we played all year,” Wisconsin assistant Gary Close said. “I think they’re that good. … They’re quick. They’re long. They’re physical. They’re committed. They play hard. They’re well-coached.”

The Wildcats are fourth nationally in field-goal percentage defense (38.0 percent), fifth in scoring defense (58.4) and 55th in three-point defense (31.9 percent).

“We wanted to be a top-five defense,” said point guard T.J. McConnell, who had a critical steal late in a 70-64 victory over San Diego State in the regional semifinals. “We’ve been that for most of the year. We knew if we played defense, we’d win.”

McConnell leads Arizona in steals at 1.8 per game, and Close says, sets the tone by pressuring the ball. Guard Nick Johnson, listed at 6 feet 3 and 200 pounds, can guard any position other than center.

“He is a bear,” Close said.

Forward Aaron Gordon is more fundamentally sound on defense than most freshmen, and 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski generally protects the rim well.

“That won the game for them,” Close said of the defense the Wildcats played in ousting San Diego State. “They hang their hat on it. That’s why they won their championship. That’s why they’re still alive.”

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