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Kadeem Allen is the latest defensive specialist for Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats

Arizona guard Kadeem Allen, right, controls a rebound as teammate center Dusan Ristic, left, looks on while playing against Michigan State in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Armed Forces Classic, Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Arizona Wildcats senior guard Kadeem Allen came to Tucson with a high reputation as a scorer, but he’s making his mark on defense.

Allen was the Junior College Player of the Year in 2014 and transferred to Arizona for his last two seasons after averaging 25.9 points per game with 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals in his sophomore season at Hutchinson Community College.

While the expectations were high for Allen as a bucket-getter, where he’s thrived the most is as a perimeter defender.

It’s no surprise with that skill-set that he’s become a favorite of head coach Sean Miller, who’s best teams always play some of the best defense in the country.

Miller spoke highly of Allen at Pac-12 media day.

I wouldn’t want to be here at media day with anyone else other than Kadeem. Kadeem is a guy that in my mind is a throwback to how college basketball used to be, and he has earned everything that he has gotten. He came to us as a Junior College Player of the Year, somebody who was a high scorer, and that same player red shirted his first year and learned, grew, added as a big part of our team a year ago, and positioned as our only senior on this year’s team to be not only one of the Pac-12’s best, but also a leader, the leader of our team this year.

Allen was thrust into a point guard role last season and drew the ire of many Wildcats fans for his inconsistencies running the offense and scoring, averaging 8.4 points, 3.6 assists and two turnovers per game in his juior year. With that in mind, Allen never underachieved defensively.

The same play carried over to the first game of his senior year in a 65-63 win over No. 12 Michigan State Friday, when despite shooting 3-of-11 from the field, Allen’s three steals and one block were huge for the Wildcats.

Even on the most notable play of the game when Allen made the go-ahead bucket, he truly ended the game with his defensive effort, not only intercepting the inbounds pass by Michigan State but also keeping the ball in play to let the clock run out.

The Spartans, in a bit of a transition period, play four freshmen in their rotation and are relying on senior guard Eron Harris to carry the load offensively on nights superstar freshman Miles Bridges, who scored 21 points in the game, can not.

Unfortunately for head coach Tom Izzo, Allen defended Harris for most of the night, and he struggled, shooting 3-of-8 from the field and committing four turnovers.

The most noteworthy clip is the first, when up one with the shot clock running down late in the game, Harris was turned to by the Spartans to extend the lead, but Allen played flawless defense that ended with a block.

Whether it’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon, Solomon Hill or T.J. McConnell, Miller’s best players are usually at their peak defensively, and Allen is no different.

The effect he had on Harris is similar to what Johnson and McConnell did in the past to former Oregon guard Joe Young, one of the best scorers the Pac-12 has seen in the last decade. Despite that title, Young shot 34 percent in regular season matchups with the Wildcats, and most of that was due to Johnson and McConnell guarding him in Miller’s man-to-man defense.

Allen is a crucial piece for Arizona, and even more important when looking at the Pac-12 schedule this season. Arizona State has a dynamic duo in their backcourt, UCLA freshman guard Lonzo Ball has proved he was worth the hype early after putting up 19 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds in his regular season debut and Washington freshman guard Markelle Fultz could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Arizona’s defense is going to have its hands full, but luckily for Miller, he has Allen ready to lead the charge.

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