ST. LOUIS — The rule-makers want to lessen defense’s influence on basketball. They cannot, however, legislate Tekele Cotton out of effectiveness.
Cotton, Wichita State’s junior forward, gave another in a series of outstanding performances in Tuesday’s 75-62 win over BYU in Kansas City, Mo. He drew most of the duty on leading scorer Tyler Haws, who shot 3 of 15 from the field and scored 17 points, nine under his average. In the first half, Cotton wrapped up Haws and held him to four shots.
Typical Cotton. The NCAA’s attempt to remove hands and arms as defensive weapons don’t bother him.
“You’ve just got to work with it,” he said. “It’s a good rule. You’ve just got to abide by the rules and not touch anybody.”
No. 12 Wichita State (7-0) plays at Saint Louis (6-1) Sunday coming off its best defensive half of the season. The Billikens will play a more deliberate pace than BYU and they aren’t nearly as dangerous from three-point range.
The Shockers held BYU, which averaged 93.2 points entering the game, to 26 in the second half on 6-of-30 shooting. So far, the limits on physical defense aren’t dramatically changing WSU’s defensive effectiveness.
It is holding teams to 38.6-percent shooting and 27.3 percent from three-point range. Free throws attempted by opponents are up to 21.7 a game from 19.8 last season. But free throws made are down, from 14.1 to 12.5.
“The rules have changed a little bit and made it a little harder to guard,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We’re all trying to adjust. Ultimately it will all settle down and we’ll learn how to play with the new rules.”
Cotton is adjusting just fine. Against BYU, he received help from Nick Wiggins, a player formerly regarded as a weak spot on defense.
To start the second half, Cotton switched to BYU guard Matt Carlino, who scored 18 first-half points. Ron Baker took Haws. By keeping the ball away from Carlino and Haws, and swarming them when they did make a move, the Shockers made less-accomplished scorers beat them. Carlino scored three points in the second half. Carlino and Haws, bothered by the attention, began shooting too quickly as the game unfolded.
“Their defensive gameplan, they stayed with it for a long time, and we never could really break throught it,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “They kind of wore us out.”
Wiggins helped guard Haws in the second half, blocking a layup and stripping him on a drive early in the half. Late in the game, he forced a travel to deny Haws a fastbreak layup.
A year ago, foul trouble on Cotton likely would have forced WSU to play zone because Wiggins couldn’t handle that defensive duty. In the final three minutes, Cotton resumed shadowing Haws.
“Tekele Cotton is a marvelous defender and Nick is improving daily,” Marshall said.
WSU will need another good defensive effort on Sunday. It can count on one from Saint Louis, which hasn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 67 points. It is holding teams to 39.5-percent shooting and 24.2 percent behind the arc.
“They’re a solid, veteran team,” Marshall said. “They know the system inside and out.”