Arizona narrowly escaped the 12th seeded Memphis Tigers on Friday with a 77-75 victory from Tulsa, which allowed them to advance to the Round of 32 to take on the fourth seeded Texas Longhorns in a 3:10 MST tip from the BOK Arena.
Ranked number 25 in the preseason, UT climbed all the way to number two at one point in the season, and was poised to take over the top spot in the polls before losing to Nebraska. Rick Barnes' team started the season 23-3, but is just 5-4 record in its past nine games and currently sits with a 28-7 mark after a 13-3 slate in Big-12 play.
The Longhorns played a close game themselves on Friday, as the 13th seeded Oakland Golden Grizzlies gave them all they could handle in an 85-81 victory. One would be hard pressed to find a more decorated starting lineup in the country, as all five starters received recognition from the conference as well as media outlets around the nation.
Handling the ball for the Longhorns is Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year Dogus Balbay. The 6-foot-1 Turkish senior is known primarily for his tough on-ball defense, and he's gained a reputation as a player who can lock down the opposing team's point guard.
Balbay is averaging a career-high 4.1 points per game and is also the team's second-leading assist man with 2.2 per contest. Despite not being known for his jump shot, Balbay is shooting 57.8 percent from the field, but will only shoot between two and three times per game. He looks to penetrate to get his teammates involved and open looks, but will take an easy layup if it's given to him.
A top ten player in the class of 2010, Cory Joseph has lived up to the hype so far in his first season in Austin. The 6-foot-3 Canadian born Findlay Prep graduate was selected as an Honorable Mention Big-12 performer, was a member of the Big-12 All Rookie Team, and was voted a second team Freshman All-American.
Joseph is the team leader in minutes and assists, as he dishes out 3.6 assists in 32.3 minutes per game. He's also the team's fifth-leading scorer at 10.5 points per contest and his 41.3 percent rate from three-point range is tops on the team. He's been a rock in the backcourt for the Longhorns and is critical to what they do on both ends of the floor.
The top three scorers and rebounders for Texas are the starters in its frontcourt. The group is led by First Team All-Big 12 selection and USWBA Second Team All-American Jordan Hamilton, who is the team's leading scorer and second ranked rebounder with 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
After struggling with consistency as a freshman, the 6-foot-7 sophomore is showing why he was also a top ten player in the class of 2009. He's shooting 38.3 percent from behind the arc and 44.2 percent overall from the field, and if he gets into a rhythm, there are few players in college basketball who can score like Hamilton.
There are holes in his game, primarily having to do with his attitude and demeanor on the court. With his frustrations come poor shot selection and laziness on defense, and with the style of defense Texas plays, one hole in the defense opens up the entire floor for its opponents.
Arizona should look to get inside his head by whatever means necessary and make him use all of the offensive tools at his disposal to get his baskets. It can ill afford to let him have his way offensively, as that confidence will carry over to defense and make things much easier for Texas.
The second senior in the lineup for Texas, Gary Johnson's 11.4 points per contest rank third on the team for the Longhorns. The 6-foot-6 Third Team All-Big 12 selection is undersized for a power forward, but he is perfectly capable of holding his own in the paint.
Johnson is the team's third leading rebounder at 6.8 boards per outing, and is an efficient scorer from the block at 46 percent shooting in 30.1 minutes. He's the type of player who matches skill and determination to form a very solid player for Texas along the interior.
The final member of the starting lineup for Barnes' team is the most celebrated of the five, as Tristan Thompson earned recognition as Big 12 Freshman of the Year, was voted to the All Big 12 Second Team as well as the All Defensive Team. On top of that, the 6-foot-8 Canadian big man was selected to the Freshman All-American team.
Thompson, who declared Saturday he'll be returning to Austin for his sophomore season, played an absolutely stellar game against future NBA center Keith Benson from Oakland when he recorded 17 points, 10 rebounds, and seven blocks despite giving up three inches height wise to Benson.
For the season, Thompson is the Longhorns' second leading scorer at 13.4 points per contest, and is the team's leading rebounder with 7.9 boards per outing. The 19th ranked player in the class of 2010 is also Texas' leader in blocked shots with 2.3 swats per game.
The trio of Hamilton, Johnson, and Thompson give UT a lethal inside-outside scoring combination that prevents any of the them from being double teamed at any time. With Hamilton knocking down shots from the perimeter, and Johnson and Thompson scoring on the block, Texas has the capacity to score from anywhere on the floor with its frontcourt.
The X-factor for Texas this season has been its production from its sixth man J'Covan Brown, who is averaging 10.1 points in 21.4 minutes off the bench. He's scored in double-digits in 17 of the team's 35 games, and his 21 points against Oakland was the fourth time he had eclipsed that mark on the season.
Brown thrives shooting the basketball from just about anywhere on the floor; as he's hitting 39.5 percent of his three-point attempts, 40.8 percent of his shots from the floor, and 84.4 percent of his shots from the free-throw line.
Against Oakland, Brown hit all 12 of his free throw attempts, and was huge down the stretch for the Longhorns. He'll be asked to continue to provide a spark and a consistent scoring threat off the bench and will be a tough matchup for Jordin Mayes and the rest of the second line for UA.
Aside from the five starters and Brown, Texas does not have much in the way of scoring. Jai Lucas, a 5-foot-10 senior transfer from Florida, is averaging just 3.2 points on 25.5 percent from three-point range and 36.8 percent from the field overall in just 12.4 minutes per game.
In the frontcourt, Matt Hill is the team's third leading rebounder with 3.2 boards in 13.9 minutes per game. The 6-foot-10 senior is averaging just 1.6 points per outing. Finally, Alexis Wangmene, a 6-foot-7 junior from the Cameroon, is averaging just 2.3 points and 2.2 rebounds in 9.7 minutes per game.
These two teams share some common opponents, as the Longhorns defeated Rice, Oklahoma three times, and ended Kansas' 69-game winning streak in Lawrence in January. Texas also was handed its worse loss of the season in an 73-56 loss against the USC Trojans at the Galen Center and lost to Kansas in the Big 12 Championship game.
Without question, this is one of the most talented teams Arizona has faced during Sean Miller's two-year run as head coach of the Wildcats. It's a team that plays suffocating defense when it wants to, and when it does is one of the best teams in the country.
The battle of the day is without question going to be between Thompson and Derrick Williams. Thompson will be one of the best, if not the best, interior defender Williams will have faced this season, and he'll certainly make things a little bit more difficult for UA's big man.
Williams needs to attack Thompson as often as he can because of UT's lack of depth along the front line. If he can force Thompson to the bench early with foul trouble, it will certainly be a major advantage for UA as the game progresses. The matchup between a pair of NBA prospects is certain to excite and likely be a major storyline of the game.
Arizona needs to play one of its best games of the season on both ends of the floor. It needs to limit turnovers, get back on defense in transition, be crisp in its passing and play excellent man-to-man defense to prevent Texas from finding openings on offensively on the floor.
On offense, UA needs to be aggressive and try to get UT's starters in to foul trouble because of its lack of depth, and also keep the Texas frontline off the boards.
It won't be easy, but if Arizona plays a very complete game and is solid fundamentally, it has a chance to pull of the upset and advance into the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years.
Arizona looks to win and advance
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