Game 10: December 20, 2006
Arena: McKale Center
Memphis will step on the court tomorrow with good wins over Oklahoma and Kentucky and a bad loss to Tennessee. Win or lose, Memphis is doing everything big this year which makes them a difficult team to gauge. The Tigers rebounded from a 92-85 loss at the hands of Georgia Tech by beating up a solid Kentucky team 80-63. After beating their next three opponents by an average of 21 points, Memphis then got rolled by a so-so Tennessee team 76-58. Memphis enters Wednesday night's game against Arizona on a two game win streak and will look to make a statement to the nation that come season's end, this talented group of freshman and sophomores will be a team to contend with.
Arizona enters the game on an impressive eight game winning streak. The Wildcats have played against just about every style of play a team could throw at them. They've beaten up tempo teams such as New Mexico State, UNLV and Houston, strong and athletic teams such as, Illinois, Louisville and San Diego State, and ball control teams such as Samford. What they haven't faced yet is a team like Memphis who likes to press and trap in the full court. Arizona is averaging 14.3 turnovers per game and had a season high 20 against Houston on Sunday. How the Wildcats handle the pressure will determine who wins this game.
Here's how I think the teams will play this one out:
Arizona is averaging five scorers in double figures per game. That's an impressive statistic and one Memphis should worry about because of their attacking, pressing defensive style. Memphis will challenge Arizona, athletically, and will apply pressure all over the court. Shakur's play is key here in that he does two things Wednesday night. First, he must not try and break the press alone by dribbling. At times he will be able to dribble through double teams and when he does watch out, but this will be rare against a coach like Calipari who stresses the fundamentals such as good defensive footwork. Second, once Shakur gives the ball up, it's imperative that he gets it back. If Arizona is relying on Radenovic or Williams to bring the ball up under pressure then look out. These guys need to be on the wings finishing, not dribbling 45 feet from the basket.
Memphis relies on getting points in the transition game, especially after turnovers. They also thrive off of retrieving long rebounds and kicking the ball out into the break. Dorsey is a shot-blocker inside, but just like last season is prone to foul trouble. Douglas-Roberts is leading the team in scoring and minutes played and is capable of going off every time he takes the court. Memphis' set offense is suspect so if the Tigers aren't scoring in the open court, they could struggle mightily like in their game against the Volunteers.
OFFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
Arizona must pass the ball over and through the Memphis pressure to be successful. If they can break the initial traps, they must then look to attack the basket rather than pulling back and setting up their offense. If they do, they'll play right into Memphis' hands because the Tigers won't stop trapping just because Arizona crosses half court. With five scorers on the floor, Arizona should get enough good looks to allow them to open up a lead and possibly force the Tigers to back off a bit. If any Wildcat over dribbles, the results could be a disaster as the Tigers have enough skywalkers to put together a team highlight reel of spectacular dunks and lay ups from this game alone. If this were last season's team, I'd be watching this game through webbed fingers like I do horror flicks. Fortunately, this Arizona squad is much more disciplined, focused and team oriented that sans a wild pass or turnover here or there, will most likely get the best of the Tigers press.
Arizona is going to the 2-3 zone more and more and it's paying dividends with strong defensive efforts and big winning margins. Holding teams under 40 percent field goal shooting is becoming a habit. Against Memphis, the Wildcats can make things difficult for the Tigers in the half court, whether they're playing man or zone. The trick here is to get back on defense and slow down the Tigers transition game. Arizona thus far has done a pretty good job of slowing teams down when on defense even though they want an up tempo game themselves when they have the ball.
Memphis loves to press and trap teams and won't be afraid to challenge the athletic Wildcats from the get go by extending their defense to 90-feet. Memphis will try to trip up Arizona by mixing the type of defense they drop back into if the Wildcats break the press. At times, they'll fall back into a match up zone while other times they'll go man or even stay in a half court trap. If they can keep Shakur and the Cats guessing as to what defense they're in, the Wildcats will lose valuable seconds off the shot clock.
DEFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
Expect Arizona to have more success scoring against the trapping Tigers than Memphis will have against the Wildcats zone. The key on this side of the ball for both teams is staying out of foul trouble. Memphis, like Arizona, won't settle for 3-pointers all night long. Instead, they'll attack the basket even if it's not there. There should be a lot of contact all night and if the referees are calling things tight, the team that has more starters sitting on the bench because of fouls in the final 10 minutes will most likely lose the game.
Williams has been a tour de force in the past two games on the boards. He proved that his 16 rebound effort against San Diego State was no fluke by hauling down another 12 against Houston. Radenovic continues to lead the team with 7.8 rebounds per game while McClellan continues to be a menace for opposing teams on the offensive glass. Olson would certainly like to see Budinger regain his aggressiveness on the boards against Memphis as Arizona must continue to rebound from all five spots if they want to hold off the Tigers.
Like Arizona, the Tigers are proving to be beasts on the boards. Led by Dorsey's 9.7 rebounds per game, Memphis is averaging 42.5 per contest. What's more astonishing is on the season, one third of their rebounds have come on the offensive end (154 of 425). Memphis likes to take shots early in the shot clock and is not afraid to send four and sometimes all five players to the offensive glass. They do this because they can only full court zone press out of a made basket so a team that can hold them to one and done is their worse case scenario.
REBOUNDING EDGE: EVEN
Forget the press, the game's fast pace, the contested shots and the circus-like drives to the basket. For those who really love the game of basketball, the battle of the boards between these two teams should be amazing. Expect to see bodies flying everywhere with players doing anything and everything to get their hands on a ball, even if only to deflect it. The longer the ball stays loose, the better for Memphis. For Arizona, it's about securing rebounds and not trying to tap them to teammates. For teams as talented, long and athletic as Memphis and Arizona, it's impossible to predict which team will win this phase of the game without being able to watch the game's first 10 minutes. I'm calling it even for now, but here's the deal: Early on, watch which team is more disciplined in actually boxing out their opponent. The team who relies solely on their athleticism to outboard the other will tire quicker in the second half and won't get to many loose balls as the game wears on.
This game will be Arizona's stiffest test of the preseason slate until the Tar Heels come to town on January 27th. Memphis is an aggressive team and although they play an up tempo style like earlier Arizona opponents such as Northern Arizona, New Mexico State, UNLV, and San Diego State, Memphis won't just settle for long range jumpers all night long. In fact, the Tigers will look to drive the lane and force contact as much as possible.
Memphis' physical nature could allow them to do what other teams have failed to do against Arizona this season and that's lure the Wildcats into foul trouble. This is what happened in Arizona's lone loss of the season, a 93-90 setback to Virginia. Lute Olson would like to go to his bench tonight but only wants to do so out of luxury, not desperation. To this end, expect Memphis to force up some ill advised shots down low if only to try and draw a few cheap fouls.
Memphis' pressing style, while difficult to face, will open up plenty doors of opportunity for Arizona to get easy shots both in their set offense as well as in the transition game. Look for Olson to call a few set plays for Williams and Budinger out of timeouts or off the inbounds in an attempt to get them going as their play will go a long way in determining the game's outcome.
Radenovic is smart enough to stay out of foul trouble and is capable of having a huge night, but his shot selection has been sketchy in the past two games. A couple of bad shots early and Olson may try to make a point by sitting Ivan for a spell. With the game's frantic pace, Olson will go to his bench so expect at least eight Wildcats to play tonight, perhaps 10 if things are going well.
Memphis will cause Arizona to turn the ball over but as long as the turnovers are the ball out of bounds versions and not the lazy passes for dunks the other way, then the Wildcats should be able to put enough points on the scoreboard to win the game.
ARIZONA 82 MEMPHIS 73