Wisconsin's players and coaches endured a jarring transition between the second and third rounds of the NCAA Tournament. In the opener, UW had to deal with American's precise and methodical Princeton offense. With one day to prepare, UW then had to contend with Oregon's high-octane attack. The No. 2-seeded Badgers (29-7) are in the midst of a similar adjustment as they prepare to face No. 1-seeded Arizona (33-4) at 7:49 p.m. Saturday at the Honda Center. UW dissected Baylor's zone in the Sweet 16 but to earn a trip to the Final Four the Badgers will have to avoid getting overwhelmed by Arizona's oppressive man-to-man defense. "I think it's the best half-court defensive team we played all year," UW assistant Gary Close said. "I think they're that good. ... "They're quick. They're long. They're physical. They're committed. They play hard. They're well-coached." The Wildcats are fourth nationally in field-goal percentage defense (38.0%), fifth nationally in scoring defense (58.4 ppg) and 55th in three-point defense (31.9%). "Wanted to be a top-five defense," said point guard T.J. McConnell, who had a critical steal late in the 70-64 victory over San Diego State in the regional semifinals. "We've been that for most of the year. We knew if we played defense we'd win. ... "It is the will to want to play defense and the will to win. And we've had that will all year. We need that will tomorrow for us to be successful." McConnell leads Arizona in steals at 1.7 per game and according to Close sets the tone by pressuring the ball. Guard Nick Johnson, listed at 6 feet 3 inches and 200 pounds, can guard any position other than center. "He is a bear," Close said. Forward Aaron Gordon is more fundamentally sound on defense than most freshmen, and 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski generally protects the rim well. "That won the game for them," Close said of the defense the Wildcats played in ousting San Diego State. "They hang their hat on it. That's why they won their championship. That's why they're still alive." UW can counter by spreading the floor with five scorers at all times. However, Arizona's defensive intensity is comparable to that of Michigan State's, which held UW to 28% shooting and 26 points in the first half of the Big Ten semifinals. "It comes down to us being aggressive," UW point guard Traevon Jackson said. "If we let their defensive tenacity get under our skin, we won't be able to do the things that we want to do."
Badgers zoned in on Arizona's man-to-man defense
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Mar 29