The way things started this season for the Arizona Wildcats, it would seem that their defense was going to be down from what we had seen from them the last two seasons resulting in Elite Eight Appearances. You add the fact that Kaleb Tarczewski, their only returning starter and most imposing defender, had missed most of the season with a foot injury before returning to the court in the Pac-12 opener vs ASU.
But believe it or not, the numbers reflect that the defense is doing just fine and in some areas, better than it was last season. There may be more games this season with teams scoring above 70 points in a game than we’ve been accustomed to, but in actuality on the season, they are giving up just 63.3 points per game which is best in the conference.
After all of the NBA talent has come and gone over the last couple of seasons, the Wildcats believe it or not have looked like a better offense team this season. Pair that with their surprising defense, they are outscoring opponents by a margin of almost 17 points which is also first in conference.
Continuing on the notion that Tarczewski missing over half the teams games, the Wildcats rebounding on the defensive end has been as good as ever. They are out-rebounding opponents by 12 and giving up only getting 28.7 rebounds per game. The next two are Cal and Utah who are both at 32.
The message has been clear from Miller to his players and the numbers and their play is reflecting it.
“We don’t play an 82 game schedule,” states Miller. “We play a 31 game schedule. I mean, everyone of this games at McKale, we are going to snap our finger and we are going to be nine left. So we can’t take a play off, take a half off, take a game off. We are not good enough to do that. Very few teams are. But we have to stand for something and for us, the one thing we can control is our togetherness and effort defensively.”
Wildcats take on the Southern California schools this weekend beginning with UCLA at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night where they have lost seven of their last nine times in that building.