Arizona State guard Josh Christopher’s ball handling continues to impress in the open court, and it has actually been an impressive part of his game since his days as a Las Vegas prepster. Early in the second half against Arizona (11-3, 5-3), Christopher used a crossover, kept his balance and then finished at the cup for a bucket while drawing the foul, eventually finishing for a three-point play (2nd Half/16:36, Arizona ’21). The former five-star recruit is averaging 16.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for a Sun Devils team that has largely disappointed in 2020-21.
Later, he ran the court and just missed an opportunity for a transition shot block due to a goal tend. On the team’s next possession he knocked down a corner three off the catch-and-shoot to tie the score at 48. If it wasn’t enough, he was seen hustling for a loose ball to try and save a ball going out of bounds in-between those sequences.
Christopher contests versus drives to the basket in transition defense without fouling, even when giving up baskets in these instances (2nd half, Arizona ’21). Fouls, however, have been an issue in his first 11 career contests, posting four or more in five games. Becoming a more efficient passer within half court sets is an area that he could also look to improve the rest of the season.
His activity has to be a factor in all phases because he isn’t efficient behind the three-point line (25%), yet shoots 45% from the field and is excellent from the free throw line (85%). As a unit, the Sun Devils have a tendency to play in spurts. After Christopher nailed a three-pointer at the 2:24 mark of the second half to put Arizona State (4-7, 1-4) up 82-77, the Wildcats ran off the last seven points of the game to close out an 84-82 victory.
The University of Arizona’s offense was supposed to be a challenge for Houston’s defense led by junior defensive tackle Ed Oliver (6’3 292). In fact, the opposite happened as Houston routed the Wildcats 45-18. DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson gives his impressions in this in-game report:
10 Ed Oliver (6’3, 292) Houston DT-Junior
Pundits have Ed Oliver as a consensus Top 15 pick in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft and he didn’t disappoint against the Wildcats. The junior commanded double teams throughout the game, which allowed his defensive counterparts to capitalize with big plays. Oliver’s best series of the afternoon came on back-to-back plays, where he didn’t even record a stat. On two separate short yardage situations (third down; fourth down) in the first half, Oliver was able to eat up two offensive linemen and still push the line of scrimmage in the backfield. His push created tackles for losses for his teammates on both plays. The junior has started every game of his career and wins with effort. Arizona junior quarterback Khalil Tate (6’2, 215) was forced to move off of his spot in the pocket numerous times because of Oliver’s inside pressure. What stood out to me was Oliver’s willingness to stay involved in plays and chase Tate from behind, which negated any potential cutback lanes. Oliver finished with five tackles and a pass deflection.
The Cougar defenders around Oliver made the most of their opportunities as well. The team totaled seven sacks and forced two interceptions. Eight players were credited with at least half of a sack and senior defensive back Garrett Davis (6’2, 210) came down with two interceptions. Davis now has six interceptions in his career. Most impressively, the Cougars defense managed to keep Khalil Tate corralled and turn him into a pocket passer rather than a runner. Houston excelled in gap integrity and leverage, forcing Tate to work through his reads and be patient rather than giving him alleys to run. Tate finished with just eight rushing yards.
Cougars up tempo offense
It was an all-around dominating performance for the Cougars offensively. The offensive line, quarterback and skill position players all deserve credit. The Cougars had 254 passing yards and 297 rushing yards. As the numbers would indicate, Houston did a good job of remaining balanced between run and pass; thus keeping the Wildcats defense guessing. Early on, Kendal Briles, the Cougars offensive coordinator, showcased some of the RPO concepts which made his father’s Baylor Bears teams so successful. Houston forced Arizona to cover the field horizontally and vertically and make tackles in space. The Cougars first touchdown of the game came on a passing touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Marquez Stevenson (6’0, 190), who took a swing pass and made the Arizona defensive backs miss in space while breaking a couple of tackles. Quarterback D’Eriq King (5’11, 195) finished with 246 yards passing and four touchdowns.
6 Shun Brown (5’10, 188) Arizona WR- Senior
Brown has “wiggle” in his game. The Wildcats used Brown on a couple of quick screens to get him one-on-one in open space. Brown is a matchup nightmare when he gets a slot corner or a linebacker in the open field. He finished with 73 receiving yards on nine catches. The senior wide receiver from Shreveport, Louisiana, is also a force in the return game. He had a 15-yard punt return on Saturday and for his career has two punt return touchdowns.
Arizona’s Deandre Ayton became the Wildcats first consensus All-American in nearly two decades. The 7’1, 260-pound center averaged 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots per game. Blessed with a soft shooting touch, long arms and excellent footwork, he is widely regarded as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. We went inside the 2017 McDonald’s All-American’s game during the summer of 2016 while competing for California Supreme Elite’s AAU squad at the Nike EBYL Peach Jam.
DN: Talk about the transition from the junior college ranks (Citrus College-Glendora, California). You became such a consistent player for the ‘Cats.
Cruikshank: It was easy for me to adapt to it and everything. I had a great coaching staff that helped me out. It wasn’t that big of a difference. There’s a lot of good talent in JUCO that I’ve gone up against that doesn’t get out sometimes just cause they don’t handle their business in school. Luckily for me, I handled my business and actually matured and grew up. I ended up at Arizona and did my thing.
DN: Yeah, one of the big things that stood out not only throughout your career but also out here the in the first day of practice (East-West Shrine practices) is your ability to transition. You have your hips opened to the sidelines and still make the 45-and-90-degree breaks. What do you credit that to? Is it a lot of drill work or is it something that’s just always been natural?
Cruikshank: No, it’s a lot of drill work. I put in a lot of work. Coach Yates (Marcel Yates-2017 Arizona defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach), Coach Donte Williams (2016 Arizona cornerbacks coach). They both coached me at the University of Arizona. I did a lot of offseason training with them before the season even started, both seasons…my junior season and my senior season. All the work that I put in is actually working out for me. I’m actually transitioning it to the field, just doing my thing out here and just having fun with it.
DN: You had a pretty competitive defensive backfield, in terms of Arizona. (Demetrius) Flannigan-Fowles and some of the other guys. How did you feel about the competition? Did y’all have inner competition on who would make the most plays?
Cruikshank: Yeah, we went at it every day. Every day we came out with a goal. Who is going to come out with the most interceptions, who is going to come out with the most pass deflections, things like that. That just keeps our juices going, you know what I’m saying. That just keeps it more competitive every day at practice. So you’re not slouching around and getting used to everything. We’re competitors man, all those guys.
DN: Looking at some of our notes, against Houston earlier this year. Your tackling coming off the edge, and tackling in general. You had 60 tackles in 2016 and quite a few this year.
DN: 76 this year. So, run support, talk a little bit about that and what that means to you in terms of your game.
Cruikshank: Well I feel like I can play anywhere on the field in the secondary. I just feel like I can just get the job done no matter where you put me at: strong safety, free safety, corner, nickel. So, I’m a physical player. I like to come up and tackle. I’m not afraid to put my nose in the hole and hit someone. I give that credit to my Dad. He made me a rough player growing up.
DN: That’s what up man. What position do you want to play at the next level? What do you think is your best position?
Cruikshank: Cornerback. I feel like corner is just the best position for me. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I can play anywhere on the field like I said.
DN: If you had to look at one player that you pattern your game after at the next level who would that be?
Cruikshank: Xavier Rhodes (Minnesota Vikings). Guys with longer arms, Marcus Peters (Los Angeles Rams) guys like that. I look at a lot of film on those guys and I just try to take after them.
DN: No doubt man, thanks a lot for your time and good luck the rest of the year and in the NFL Draft.
Cruikshank: Thank you. I appreciate it.
—2018 East-West Shrine practices, West Team, Day 1, DraftNasty staff reports
UPDATE: Cruikshank was selected by the Tennessee Titans in the 5th Round (152nd overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft.