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Arizona basketball: Kadeem Allen is ‘right there’ among the best defenders Sean Miller has had with the Wildcats

Miller has had several elite defensive players in Tucson, and Allen might be the best one of all

NCAA Basketball: Grand Canyon at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Miller knows a thing or two about elite defensive players.

In the last three years alone, he’s had the likes of Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Nick Johnson, and T.J. McConnell on his roster.

For two of those four — Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson — their defensive ability led them to be first-round NBA Draft picks.

Yet, Miller might have an even better defender on his roster this season in Kadeem Allen.

“During the eight seasons that I’ve been here, he’s right there as the best,” Miller said after Arizona’s 82-73 win over Colorado on Saturday.

Allen had just showed why against the Buffaloes.

The senior helped hold Colorado’s Derrick White to seven points on 3-7 shooting. White was averaging 15.6 points per contest heading into the game, and hadn’t been held under double digits in the scoring column since the Buffaloes’ season opener on Nov. 11.

Oh yeah, Allen scored a career-high 18 points, too.

“Tonight was about Kadeem Allen. He was an amazing player,” Miller said. “It was one of the best games I’ve seen a guard play since I’ve been at Arizona.

“What he did against Derrick White, I think Derrick White is an NBA guard. His statistics are overwhelming. He’s had his way with virtually every team that he’s played.”

Those teams didn’t have Allen, though.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anybody play better defense against a great opponent more than he did,” Miller said.

But Allen, who leads the Wildcats in steals and is second in blocks, has done it several times this season.

For instance, against Grand Canyon he helped limit DeWayne Russell, the nation’s second-leading scorer at the time, to 19 points on 21 shots. Against Cal, he limited high-scoring point guard Charlie Moore to 12 points on 12 shots.

Miller has had other players do similar things in the past, but they also had more help and experience alongside them.

“The difference between Kadeem and them is he surrounded by a young group,” Miller said. “Sometimes when you’re a really good defender, it helps to have others out there that are also equally adept. T.J. had Nick. Nick had T.J. Rondae always had somebody. And our other guys are really getting better, but Kadeem clearly stands out.”

Indeed, because while the Wildcats have the 11th-best defensive efficiency in the country as a team, their success starts with Allen, who is usually seen using his 6-9 wingspan and athleticism to blanket the opposing team’s best player.

“He embodies a lot of qualities on this year’s team,” Miller said. “Our team feeds off of Kadeem because he doesn’t say much, he just lets his play do the talking.

“He has really stepped up as much as I’ve seen a guy step up to be a great leader.”

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire