My high school basketball coach always told our team that defense wins championships.
After watching the Pac-10 Tournament Championship game between the Arizona Wildcats and Washington Huskies, an argument could be made that my coach was right.
On Washington's final play during regulation, guard Isaiah Thomas drove the lane with his team trailing by three. His penetration caused Arizona's Kevin Parrom to leave his man, C.J. Wilcox, wide open in the corner.
After successfully drawing in the defense, Thomas delivered the ball to Wilcox who nailed it. The shot was his only made three-pointer of the night and it sent the game into overtime. Everyone knows what happened after that.
Many Wildcat fans were quick to label Parrom's lapse on the defensive end as one of the main reasons Arizona suffered defeat. Even Parrom put the blame on himself after the final whistle had blown.
"I was supposed to help, but I didn't get back to my man," Parrom said. "He [Thomas] was able to drive it in and kick it out. That was a big reason why we lost.
"When Isaiah drives it in, we're supposed to jab at him but not leave our man open. That's my mistake."
While it is no secret that the decision cost Arizona, it was just one play in the game that helped determine the outcome.
Arizona was out-rebounded by Washington 37-27. Even more significant were the 13 offensive rebounds that the Huskies snagged, which allowed multiple possessions late in the game. Coming into the contest the Wildcats were 21-0 when winning the rebounding category against its opponents. That did not happen on Saturday and it certainly had an impact on the result.
Another area in which the Wildcats struggled was free throw shooting. Arizona shot 66.7% from the charity stripe as it connected on just 20 of 30 attempts. This was not typical of the Wildcats who have been the best free throw shooting team in the conference, averaging 75% this season.
The missed foul shots would have put more separation between the two teams down the stretch, and possibly given Arizona a better chance at a victory.
Aside from rebounds and free throw shooting, Arizona had no answer for conference Player of the Year candidate, Isaiah Thomas. In the first half, Thomas tallied 19 of his 28 points, which included a handful of open layups. For a team that witnessed first-hand a January 20th performance by Thomas consisting of 22 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, and 1 steal, one would assume Arizona would make the point guard more of an emphasis this time around.
This is not to suggest it is possible to completely stop the production of great players. However, it is reasonable to expect that a team should be able to limit said player's effectiveness in some facet of the game. This was not the case during Saturday's title matchup, as Thomas accumulated 28 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals. Oh yeah, and he hit the game-winning shot.
Even though I am unsure how my old coach knew defense was so important in winning championships – considering we never made it past the first round of the state tournament - it seems as though he was somewhat right.
Certain defensive lapses by Arizona may well have cost it a 5th Pac-10 Tournament title. Yet, neither one play, nor one player decided the outcome of this game. The outcome was determined by Arizona's entire ‘body of work', from opening tip to final buzzer. Which, ironically, is exactly what the Committee will be looking at come Selection Sunday.
Defense wins championships
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