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A key defensive change helped Arizona stymie Colorado

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The Buffaloes weren’t ready

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 18 Colorado at Arizona Photo by Chris Coduto/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sean Miller has been criticized for being too stubborn with his defensive schemes, not always willing to deviate from his pack line man-to-man principles. That was not the case Saturday when the Arizona Wildcats stymied the Colorado Buffaloes in a 75-54 victory.

The Wildcats switched more than usual, particularly on ball screens and out of bounds plays, a wrinkle that helped them hold Colorado to 37 percent shooting and its third-worst offensive efficiency of the season. (Arizona sprinkled in some zone as well, though not a huge dose.)

“You’re always trying to look at what you can do better,” Miller said Monday on his radio show. “And as the game changes, and it certainly does over time, you want to be adept at making what we do, our system of play, more consistent regardless of our opponent. You don’t want to be exploited by something that you do, but you could do better or do differently. This offseason we did and that’s a great observation, switching a little bit more when the ball’s taken out of bounds under their basket. ... We really try and disrupt and we’ve done a good job in that area. And then at the end of the shot clock, wrinkling that up a little bit as well. Still playing man to man, but I think being a little bit more flexible and utilizing different schemes.”

Colorado coach Tad Boyle was quick to credit Arizona for his team’s offensive woes.

“They were switching one through five on ball screens,” he said (via BuffZone.com). “Their bigs were guarding our guards and their little guys were fronting our posts. We’ve got to do a better job of exposing that. I thought when that happened, the ball stopped moving for us. And the ball can’t stop moving. It has to keep moving, because the only way you’re going to have success against Arizona is to get them in rotations, and then attack them. We did that a couple times, but with that switching, we didn’t handle it very well.”

It may have actually helped Arizona that it was without Chase Jeter due to a back injury, forcing the swifter Ira Lee to take on a bigger role. Between him and Zeke Nnaji, the Wildcats had two big men who were able to hold their own when matched up with quick Colorado guards like McKinley Wright IV. (Clips of Lee sliding his feet can be seen below.)

“They did and if you look at our big guys, that’s one thing Ira gives,” Miller said. “Ira is a very mobile frontcourt player who plays with great energy and effort. And Zeke obviously the same thing. There’s a difference with Zeke if he’s guarding a five man and a four. You forget Zeke’s not a small guy. When he’s playing the five defensively, he gives you even more mobility defensively and then mixing in Stone (Gettings), I think Stone’s only going to get better as he gets more of an opportunity. He’s helped us but the best is still yet to come for him as he settles in more and more. But those guys this weekend did a really good job on ball screens, rebounding the ball, which we talked about in doing their respective jobs.”