LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Butler coach Chris Holtmann acknowledged that Vanderbilt’s size and zone defense bothered the Bulldogs in a 76-66 win Thursday, and he expects the task to be more difficult against No. 8 Arizona on Friday.
At least Holtmann’s team, which is 5-0, does not have to concern itself with a zone defense utilized by Arizona coach Sean Miller. Being from the same “family of coaches,” as Holtmann calls the Midwestern roots of himself and Miller, both teams figure to play man-to-man when they meet in the championship game of the Continental Tire Invitational at 8:30 p.m., Tucson time.
The Wildcats (5-0) also have size much like Vanderbilt presented with 7’1″ NBA prospect Luke Fornet and 6’10” center Djery Baptiste. The Wildcats start two 7-footers – freshman forward Lauri Markkanen and center Dusan Ristic.
“Vanderbilt’s size bothered us a little bit but you have to give our guys some credit for responding there down the stretch,” said Holtmann, whose team rallied after Kornet made a 3-pointer to put the Commodores up by two with 9:04 left in the game.
Butler freshman guard Kamar Baldwin made back-to-back layups before a dunk by junior forward Tyler Wideman capped a 17-3 run that put Butler up 70-58 with 1:33 remaining.
Fornet and Baptiste struggled on the offensive end, making only 3 of 14 shots combined from the field. It was their presence in the paint that affected Butler’s shooting. The Bulldogs made 40.4 percent of their field goals.
“It is important going against a team like Arizona that we showed we can respond when we were not playing great and the other team was coming after us a little bit,” Holtmann said. “Arizona is clearly the most talented and gifted team we will have played. They play really hard and they’re disciplined.”
Arizona sophomore guard Allonzo Trier did not make the trip because of an undisclosed eligibility issue that has kept him out of the first five games.
The Wildcats held off a pesky Santa Clara team, winning 69-61, to set up the championship game with Butler. Markkanen led Arizona with 16 points and nine rebounds while freshman guard Kobi Simmons added 14 points (making all three of his 3-point attempts).
Miller and Holtmann share a past centering around Illinois coach John Groce, when he was a coach at Ohio. Miller is a good friend of Groce and Holtmann served as an assistant under Groce at Ohio.
Miller is also a close friend of Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who coached at Butler in 2000-01 before coaching at Xavier from 2001-02 to 2003-04. Matta coached twice against Arizona’s Final Four team of 2000-01, losing both games — in the Fiesta Bowl Classic and the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“I am very familiar with their program coming from Xavier,” said Miller, who was head coach at Xavier from 2004-05 to 2008-09. “They are a Top 25 caliber team and NCAA tournament team. We are potentially playing our best opponent (Friday). We know that and we’re going to have to play a great game to beat them.”
Butler senior forward Andrew Chrabascz recorded his second career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ win over Vanderbilt. Guard Tyler Lewis scored 15 points and forward Kelan Martin added 14 points.
“It’s going to be an honor playing against those guys,” said Martin, a preseason All-Big East selection, of Arizona. “It’s a big-name school. They have a good team. They have a lot of tradition.
“We have to be ready to play them, especially playing back-to-back (days) like this.”