Pac-12 basketball teams zone in on new defensive strategy

More teams seem to be switching to the zone defense over man-to-man and that might increase given the success of Washington and first-year coach Mike Hopkins, a disciple of zone guru Jim Boeheim at Syracuse.

When Dana Altman arrived at Oregon in 2010, only one other men’s basketball team in what was then the Pac-10 played some variation of a zone defense.

From Los Angeles to the Bay Area and from the Northwest to Arizona, everyone – with the exception of Oregon and Oregon State — relied exclusively on a man-to-man defensive scheme.

Fast-forward eight years, and the popularity of the zone defense, which was once considered a gimmicky strategy employed by teams with inferior athletes, has expanded to every corner of the conference.

“Teams are changing up,” Altman said. “They see the advantage of playing zone at least for a while. … Everybody except Arizona has got some variation of it.”

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And it seems as if Arizona has caught on.

Pac-12 basketball analyst Corey Williams, who played four years (1992-96) for the Wildcats, had to do a double-take to make sure he saw what he thinks he saw.

It couldn’t possibly be true, but he watched his former team fall back defensively into a zone defense during an 82-74 loss to UCLA.

“It shocked me,” Williams said, laughing. “Arizona went zone for a few possessions and the first thing I noticed was I could tell it’s not something they practice because it was horrible. UCLA scored right away, and I don’t think they went back to it.

“I know (coach) Sean Miller is a man-to-man principle guy, but sometimes you got to try something when your team isn’t playing well. I give him a lot of credit for trying something new, because for as long as I can remember, Arizona plays man defense all the time. … It’s just another example of the changes in…

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