Game 2: November 15, 2006
Northern Arizona University @ Arizona
McKale Memorial Center
Playing in front of a home crowd will be a welcome site for Arizona after losing their season opener at Virginia's rowdy John Paul Jones Arena. The Wildcats will look for more production out of their bench, as well as better play from Senior PG Mustafa Shakur who was hampered by foul trouble all game against the Cavaliers.
NAU will be playing their third straight road game to open the season. Their confidence will be high after their upset of ASU, but will it be enough to carry them through what should be a much more difficult contest against the Wildcats.
NAU is the reigning Big Sky conference champion and is led by their Coach Mike Adras who is in his seventh season with the Lumberjacks. The team returns 9 of 11 players from last year's roster.
When the ball finally drops, here's what Arizona fans can expect:
Arizona showed great offensive balance against Virginia. Four starters scored 17 points or more. The team began to rush shots in the second half, but playing in a hostile environment will do that to a young team. Olson and staff will have plenty of game film for the team to review and will easily be able to point out what worked well and what didn't work well on offense. Expect the Cats to move more without the ball, creating cleaner passing lanes for Shakur and company to distribute the ball.
NAU Senior SG Steve Sir was granted a rare sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA and thus far has scored 9 and 12 points in the first two games. The team returns five of their top six scorers from last season, including 6-7 all conference forward, Ruben Boykin, Jr. and Tyrone Bazy, a 6-1 guard. Sir is the school's all time 3-pt. percentage shooter (48.7) and will look to stretch Arizona's defense to create space for his teammates to operate closer to the basket.
OFFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
Arizona's young players should have learned a valuable lesson in their loss to Virginia. Arizona's motion offense only works when all five parts are moving. If one player stands around, the system breaks down and the end result is what happened in the 2nd half. When players do move without the ball, the 49-point 1st half will be a more likely occurrence for this talented, up tempo squad. Fans can expect the Cats to play much better at home where potentially tired legs can gain strength from a supportive crowd.
Much of Arizona's poor defense from the Virginia game can be attributed to poor shot selection when on offense. The quick shots left the Cats out of position and the Cavaliers burned them in the transition game. The Cats will mix in some zone defense but expect them to utilize their athleticism in going man-to-man most of the night. The Cats must extend against NAU's guards so as to not trade two's for three's early on. I think it's still too early in the season for the Cats to unveil their full court press, but if NAU is controlling the tempo in a slow down game, you never know.
NAU will try anything and everything early against the Cats to see what works. Outside of a full court press, expect the Lumberjacks to force the Cats to knock down some outside shots against their zone defense. If they go man, the Cats should be able to exploit mismatches all over the court. By being patient on D and not gambling for steals, the Lumberjacks will look to bait the Cats into taking early shots from the perimeter.
DEFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
The Lumberjacks will make shots against Arizona as most teams typically shoot well in the shooter-friendly McKale Center. Still, Arizona's defense should be extra aggressive coming off an embarrassing 2nd half effort against Virginia where they gave up 57 points. Olson has been stressing defense for this team to succeed this season and won't let the Cats have another performance like the one they had Sunday. Expect a short leash for those Cats not willing to commit on the defensive end – and expect a lot of steals.
Arizona won the overall rebounding battle against Virginia, 36-31, but was clearly out hustled in the 2nd half, losing that battle of the boards 18-15. The Cats went small on Sunday because of nagging injuries to Kirk Walters and Bret Brielmaier and may do so again, but expect them to have a decisive rebounding advantage when this one is over.
NAU is a savvy bunch who will benefit from returning five of its top six players from last season. If they're getting open shots and making them, then rebounding won't be such an issue. If not, the more athletic Cats who are desperate for a win should win this aspect of the game.
REBOUNDING EDGE: ARIZONA
NAU is well-coached and well-coached teams always find a way to get into good rebounding position. Arizona is an outstanding defensive rebounding team when they play man-to-man and a terrible rebounding team when they play their 1-3-1 zone. Expect Arizona to play much more man than zone defense to try to force an up tempo game.
I'm setting the magic number for Arizona winning games this season at 20 team assists. The team had 12 assists in the first half in opening up a 49-36 lead. In the second half, the Cats had only six assists as Virginia capitalized off of Arizona's poor shooting and shot selection.
Arizona will have at least four scorers on the floor at all times this season so there is no reason for anymore selfish play. This Cats squad is loaded with playmakers and when they are focused on making plays for their teammates instead of themselves, they are and will be a tough out. So, let's put my theory to the test: I'm betting that if they can get at least 20 assists in a game, they'll win that game. I'll be keeping track throughout the season.
For NAU, they've played two games this season. Against Kansas, they were blown out of the gym as the Jayhawks shot 54.0% from the floor and made 6 of 13 from behind the arc in the 91-57 rout. Against Arizona State, the Lumberjacks controlled the tempo and led most of the game in besting the Sun Devils 75-71 in Tempe.
I'm guessing Arizona this season is more in the mold of a Kansas than a rebuilding Arizona State so expect to see the Wildcats leading comfortably late in the game. With that said, it won't be as easy for Arizona as it was for Kansas because of the familiarity factor the Lumberjacks will enjoy from their recent match-ups with the Wildcats at the McKale Center.
ARIZONA 92 NAU 73