Game 4: November 22, 2006
Samford (1-1) @ Arizona (1-1)
McKale Memorial Center
Samford is predicted to win the Ohio Valley Conference this season and make the NCAA tournament field for the fourth time in 11 years. They've already played the #1 Florida Gators this season so they won't be intimidated by their visit to Arizona. Still, Arizona is a team searching for an identity beyond that of an offensive powerhouse and will look to prove that on the defensive end tonight.
Arizona will pressure the ball throughout the night as they try to prevent Samford's point guard from entering their offense from preferable positions. They will also try and force the Bulldogs to play outside of their normal range and by stretching their offense away from the basket when playing man-to-man, will look to get their hands on longer passes. All of this is easier said than done, but the challenge has been laid out. Will the Wildcats respond?
Here's how I think the teams will play this one out:
Arizona's starting five has had no problem scoring the basketball thus far. Budinger, Williams and Radenovic are hitting shots from anywhere on the floor while McClellan proved Sunday that he is a prolific outside shooter who will be called upon to stretch defenses all year. Shakur has posted back-to-back strong performances (35 points and 19 assists in last two games) and is doing the things asked of a point guard well. He's distributing the ball, attacking the defensive glass, pushing the ball up the floor, and making his free throws. Lute Olson went to his bench sparingly against NMSU. Expect that to change on Wednesday as more players should see more minutes.
Samford does not score a lot of points, but that's their style. The Bulldogs run the Princeton Offense and will try to tire Arizona defenders by searching for and only taking good shots. This doesn't mean that Samford will look to run down the shot clock on every possession. If Arizona is caught sleeping, the Bulldogs will seize the opportunity and push the ball up the floor for an easy transition bucket. The goal of their offense is to get the best shot at all times. Whether that means shooting a three with two seconds on the shot clock or converting a lay up on the break will be up to how committed the Wildcats are to playing defense.
OFFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
Samford plays a tricky offense that can easily frustrate an opponent. Arizona will try to run and ram the ball down the Bulldogs' throats each time down the court. Samford was successful in slowing down the tempo in their season opener against #1 Florida, but still lost the game 79-54. When all is said and done, expect the Wildcats to score more than 79 and the Bulldogs to score more than 54 as both defenses will struggle against the others' offenses. A key difference will be the contributions Arizona receives from their bench players who will look to redeem themselves from Sunday's poor showing.
Arizona's up and down efforts on defense have kept opponents in games thus far this season. The Wildcats surrendered a 24 point lead in a loss to Virginia and nearly squandered a 24 point lead to NMSU on Sunday. Dillon, the supposed defensive stopper, has had little impact so far. Expect him to get a chance to lock onto Samford's senior PG Jerry Smith to try and disrupt the Bulldogs' offensive flow. Fans can also expect to see Arizona again mix in their 1-3-1 Zone to neutralize the endless backdoor cuts that the Bulldogs will throw at the Wildcats. Keeping Radenovic out of foul trouble will again be a key for Arizona.
Samford will also mix their defense throughout the game, fluctuating between zone and man. Arizona has been nearly impossible to defend this season. Even in their lone loss to Virginia, Arizona still put 90 points on the scoreboard – on the road no less. No matter what defense Samford throws at Arizona, the Wildcats will score and like they have thus far, will at times score in bunches.
DEFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
Arizona has been unimpressive on defense this year, but that doesn't mean that all hope is lost. Outside of Radenovic and Shakur, the Wildcats are young and many are healing from offseason injury. Players like McClellan are still adjusting to playing at game speed, Budinger is still learning how to play defense at the Division-I level, and the lack of productive minutes from the bench players has been taxing on the starters. Expect Arizona's bench to play motivated basketball on the defensive end and especially on the boards when given the opportunity to play. Although I'm not enamored by Arizona's defense yet, they get the nod because Samford's defense will struggle, just like every other team's has had, to stop the Wildcats balanced scoring attack.
If Hill is unable to contribute because of his injured hand, Arizona's guards, more than ever, will be called upon to crash the boards. Radenovic has posted consecutive double-doubles and must avoid fouls when fending off Samford wingmen, Randall Gulina and Joe Ross Merritt, who will enter the lane from all angles on the court to snare rebounds and pick up loose balls. Arizona showed that they could rebound the ball against NMSU in out boarding the Aggies 29-6 during the first half of Sunday's contest. Unfortunately, the second half of that game proved that they could be out rebounded as well.
Samford's top returning rebounder from last season is their point man, Smith. He will put pressure on Arizona's guards to not only defend but also box out on the perimeter. The match-up between Shakur and Smith should be an interesting one and could determine whether the Wildcats run away with their third straight blowout victory, or struggle to fend off the gritty Bulldogs.
REBOUNDING EDGE: ARIZONA
Although the Bulldogs will run the Princeton-style offense and should get their fair share of looks at the basket, don't expect many of them to be very good looks. Arizona's athleticism and quickness will enable them to get a hand in the face of shooters all night. Arizona has had several defensive lapses in their first three games. Expect that to end on Wednesday. The fruits of their defensive efforts should be a lot of missed shots. Expect Arizona to control the defensive boards and get enough second-chances on th offensive end to win this category by more than 10.
If Samford can effectively run their offense in the early going, they'll have a chance to hang around for a while. Arizona's athleticism and team quickness should eventually overwhelm the Bulldogs and once the Wildcats get the opportunity to break out and run the floor, they should pull away and cruise to victory.
I don't know about how well Arizona's bench will perform, but expect strong efforts from all who take the floor tonight. Arizona's schedule gets a bit tougher in the games ahead and Olson will be evaluating everyone to see how they'll fit into his rotation.
By no means am I suggesting that Arizona is overlooking Samford because at this level, and with these two very contrasting basketball styles, anything can surely happen. What I am suggesting is Arizona has at least 10 players competing right now for a typical Olson seven to eight man rotation and so far the players' in-game auditions have been rather average thus far. Tonight, I expect the competition amongst Arizona players themselves will turn up the overall heat and should translate into a strong team performance.
ARIZONA 89 SAMFORD 62