To zone or not to zone?

Tennessee's zone defense made Kansas' players hesitate last Saturday; it might make Gonzaga's players drool tonight.

With the Jayhawks' shredding UT's man-to-man defense last weekend in Lawrence, Vol head coach Bruce Pearl went against form and switched to a 1-2-2 zone. The strategy worked, slowing Kansas' offense enough that Tennessee was able to claw its way back into the game.

Playing zone against Gonzaga could be disastrous, however, since the Bulldogs have the patience to operate at a deliberate pace and have some outside shooters who are bona fide zone-busters.

Gonzaga's tempo and defense are combining to limit opponents to just 62.5 points per game this season. Making the Bulldogs even tougher to zone is the presence of sharpshooters Matt Bouldin, Micah Downs and Steven Gray.

Bouldin is hitting 38.9 percent of his 3-point attempts. Downs is hitting 38.5 percent from beyond the arc. Sixth-man Gray nailed 4 of 6 shots from 3 en route to a team-high 19 points when Gonzaga topped Tennessee 83-74 five weeks ago in the Old Spice Classic at Orlando.

As a team Gonzaga is sinking 35.3 from 3-point range. Tennessee, by comparison, is making just 32.0.

Although Pearl prefers man-to-man defense, he has utilized more zone this season. One reason is that his freshmen are not yet competent playing man-to-man. Another reason is that the 2008-09 Vols are so tall and rangy that they can cover the court effectively using zone defense. As a result, the zone defense is becoming an increasingly attractive option.

"It was very much a factor in our beating Marquette," Pearl said, referring to an 80-68 win Dec. 16 in Nashville. "Our system is designed to try and take away what the opponent brings. Without the zone we may not beat Marquette, so it's a good weapon to have. But it's not going to be able to be played against every opponent on our schedule."

And Gonzaga may well be one of those opponents.


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