Volume 9, Issue 1 University of Houston
Houston’s defense will be key against Arizona
By CHRIS ELLIOTT
Houston has put up enough offense to be ranked the second-highest scoring team in the nation at 91.7 points per game going into its 8 p.m. Sunday game at Associated Press No. 11 Arizona.
That is one major difference between the Houston team that upset No. 16 Arizona 69-65 a year ago and the 4-2 run and shoot team head coach Tom Penders commands now. There is, however, another discrepancy that is less appealing – defense.
Players and coaches have said their team has not been where it should be in terms of defensive rotation and assignments, but they know it is improving. The team has spent two weeks in defensive boot camp. Senior point guard Lanny Smith, who made his season debut in Houston’s Dec. 2 loss to Virginia Commonwealth, said he’s seen drastic progress.
“We’ve been going through a mini boot camp here trying to get on the same page defensively because we haven’t been all this year,” Smith said. “But I think guys are finally starting to see what we have to do.
“We’ll come back tonight to watch the film of last year’s Arizona game, so everyone can get a feel to see how it was and see how we played defensively ... the rotations, the traps and everything like that. What’s going to keep us in the game and allow us to win is our defensive pressure. That’s mainly what we’ve been focusing on and working on in practice.”
Arizona head coach Lute Olsen has a team that has been able to put up 86 points per game against teams like Louisville, Illinois and Virginia. All five starters have double-digit scoring averages, and the forward combination of Chase Budinger and Ivan Radenovic has forced teams to make quick adjustments.
Houston, however, will also have a little trick up its sleeve come Sunday. Junior forward and Texas transfer Dion Dowell will have regained eligibility by game time, and teammates say his presence will make a significant difference.
“He can do so many things,” Smith said. “He’s going to be kind of like our secret weapon. They don’t have any film on him. They haven’t really seen too much of him. Hopefully, we can use his athleticism to our advantage.”
Senior forward Jahmar Thorpe, who’s averaging 10.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, agrees that having Dowell down in the post with him will cause some problems for opposing defenses. He said the addition of Smith and Dowell paired with the amount of defense work his team has been putting in practice will help the Cougars win.
“We’ve been practicing hard this past week, and we believe we’re better than them,” Thorpe said. “They’re a great ball club. They’ve got a lot of athletes, but we’ve got a lot of athletes and a lot of heart, and with the addition of Lanny and Dion to our offense, (it) just makes us a more lethal team.”
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