CORVALLIS, Ore. - A Sunday night tipoff gave the Arizona Wildcats an extra day to prepare for Oregon State this weekend, but Solomon Hill knew he needed more than that.
After the Beavers swept the Wildcats last season with a combination of baffling 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone defenses, Hill spent part of last off-season working on how to beat them.
As a forward with strong passing skills and good court vision, Hill was a key to beating those zones, and it bothered him when he could not.
"That was the first time I've even seen that kind of high-post pressure" defense, Hill said. "I watched film with coach (James) Whitford and I learned how to attack it and not waste dribbles. I was dribbling too much, and that's how they got a lot of steals. I'm looking forward to playing these games this year."
It may not be easy.
Even though the Beavers are just 6-6 against a weak schedule, they are coming off two double-digit wins, have long-awaited freshman guard Roberto Nelson in the rotation and - with those sometimes disruptive zones - are among the nation's leaders in steals with 11.2 per game.
Here's how the Beavers do it:
• Attack the weak link on the perimeter. In the 1-3-1, the Beavers typically put 6-foot-9-inch Omari Johnson at the top, meaning he'll defend the point guard and assist in a trap of him or whatever perimeter player is perceived to be the most likely to lose the ball.
"The point guard can be the worst decision-maker on the team, and if he is, we attack him," Johnson said. "If he's not, we attack the next guy."
Whitford, the UA assistant coach who scouts the Beavers, said OSU's traps are unconventional. The Beavers will often try to trap at halfcourt, not so much lunging after the ball as trying to aggressively surround the ballhandler so he will make a bad decision.
• Pressure the middle. When Hill and Jesse Perry are in the lineup together, it may actually be Perry who is in the middle of the high-post pressure. But when Hill and Jamelle Horne are in together, Hill will be expected to take the heat he's prepared for.
"We worked on his explosiveness," Whitford said of Hill. "We've played him in a couple different areas, but when we play him inside he's very effective."
Hill actually had only three turnovers combined in the two games against OSU last season but is aiming for even fewer this time.
"I look forward to getting in the middle and getting guys shots," Hill said. "I really look forward to showing I can do it."
• Terrorize the baseline. While Johnson tries to prompt turnovers at the top with his length, speedy yet long guard Jared Cunningham skirts the baseline in the 1-3-1 looking to wrestle the ball away from somebody.
He's often successful.
Cunningham averages 3.0 steals a game, the highest average in the Pac-10. With 36 so far, he's on a pace that will smash Gary Payton's OSU sophomore steals record of 72.
"He has a ton of steals," Whitford said. "He gets three a game and he can turn those three into six points quickly. The key is limiting them and not putting them in position to get a steal. That's hard to do."
• Morph into the 2-3 when necessary.
Though the Beavers were most successful against Arizona last season with the 1-3-1, they have actually been using the 2-3 much more often this season.
One reason is that Johnson is bigger and not as fantastically conditioned as now-departed Seth Tarver, who was at the top of the 1-3-1 last season.
"The hard part (the top) is it's a guy who's not a point guard who has to guard a point guard. That's hard to do," coach Craig Robinson says. "If you're 6-9 and Lamont Jones is 5-whatever, that's hard. You really have to get down low and be working your butt off.
"We've gotta find somebody to give (Johnson) a break because Seth was just phenomenally conditioned. He could play that thing the whole game. Omari's not the same kind of guy. He's a bigger kid, longer and not the same. So we don't want to wear him out. The great thing is Omari is getting in better shape. He had almost a double-double (against ASU, with nine points, eight rebounds) and that's what helps with the 2-3."
• Extend out on the shooters. Especially in the 2-3, the Beavers are aggressive in getting out to guard the shooters. They have nine players averaging 11 minutes or more, so there's no need to conserve energy.
It's not a passive zone by any means.
"It's more of a 2-3 matchup zone," UA coach Sean Miller said. "They really run at the shooters, and they cover well for each other. We have to be careful on our end that we don't shoot an inordinate amount of three-point shots just because they're in a zone. We have to make sure we're patient, drive the ball, kick it out, get it to the middle. Get the ball to Derrick (Williams) and be able to get second shots.
"Patience against the zone really creates the best shot, and we have to be patient against their zone."
• What: Arizona at Oregon State
• When: 8 p.m.
• TV: FSAZ
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM