Game 5: November 28, 2006
McKale Memorial Center
Thus far, the freshmen trio of Nice Wise, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill are getting minutes and contributing in ways many thought impossible this early in their careers. What's more, their affect on the team cannot solely be measured by what the fans see during games. The three are competing hard in practice everyday and challenging the upperclassmen to improve their own games while the trio is working hard to improve their own.
Wise, Budinger and Hill will learn if they haven't already that baptism into Division-I Basketball won't come without its price. However, these three young men, or as I like to call them, Earth, Wind and Fire, have proven already that they are high caliber, high character student athletes who will do whatever it takes for the betterment of the Arizona program.
I expect Earth, Wind and Fire to get plenty of minutes against the Rebels and how they perform will go a long way in determining whether Arizona cruises through the second half, or struggles to break free from a pesky UNLV squad that can put up impressive offensive numbers of their own.
Here's how I think the teams will play this one out:
This is shaping up to be one of the greatest offenses in Arizona school history. Granted, the lofty 94.8 scoring average has come against teams that were clearly overmatched. Still, the Wildcats did put up 90 on the road against a Virginia team known for its lockdown defense. Tuesday, the Wildcats should be able to dictate tempo against the Rebels who will take the bait and try to run with Arizona. Expect to again see balanced scoring from Arizona's starting five. Olson hinted that he'd like to get Wise into the game earlier and if he does, expect Wise to replace McClellan at the two spot instead of Shakur at the point.
The Rebels are averaging 82.0 PPG and are getting production from all positions on the floor. Michael Umeh, coming off knee surgery, is the team's primary outside shooter. He's averaging 13.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. The team's leader is 22-year old Keven Kruger, a transfer from Arizona State who is no stranger to playing against the Wildcats. He leads the team with 5.7 assists per game and is scoring a little over 11 points per contest. His presence and experience on the floor, along with 25-year old Corey Bailey, will give this young team all the leadership they'll need to play hard for 40 minutes. The Rebels don't feature a player over 6'9" so expect them to slash their way to the basket and/or drive and kick out to their spot shooters.
OFFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
Arizona's offense right now is just too good. Even if they play poor defensively, you get the feeling that they can still outscore the Rebels and win the game. Shakur is coming off one of his most solid performances in recent memory and like Williams, showed against Samford why the two were on a few preseason awards lists. Budinger should get plenty of room against a shaky Rebel defense to either attack the hole or get looks on the perimeter. The same goes for McClellan and Williams, as well as Wise when the young freshman enters the game. Since the Rebels lack size, again expect Coach Olson to go to his bench midway through the 1st half to keep fresh legs on the court and to evaluate his players.
The Wildcats utilized their 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones to trip up Samford's Princeton-style Offense last week. Look for Olson to employ the same tactics against UNLV at times to test the zones against slightly better competition. The Rebels have several outside shooters who are capable of getting hot so if the Wildcats do play zone, fans will know if the zone is effective if Arizona defenders are getting hands in the faces of shooters. If they aren't contesting jump shots, Olson will go to his more traditional, switching man-to-man defense in an attempt to force turnovers and get steals.
UNLV will have to outscore Arizona if they expect to win because they will have difficulty in shutting down Arizona's prolific offense. The Rebels are small, but extremely athletic. Radenovic has faired well against slightly smaller, but quicker defenders thus far and expect that trend to continue. UNLV may mix in some zone, but it really depends on what the score is. If Arizona jumps out to a big lead early (they've led by more than 10 points in the 1st half of every game this season), then Lon Kruger may make some adjustments. Expect Kruger to play this one close to the vest and try to man up Arizona in the half court.
DEFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
Olson himself admitted that after watching the game films, he was surprised at how many difficult shots opponents were making against the Wildcats. I've contended for years that McKale Center is one of the best shooting gyms in the Pac-10 (if not the country) so it's no surprise to see visitors get hot from time to time. When Arizona goes small, they are still deceptively long, especially on the perimeter where long-armed defenders like Shakur, Williams, and McClellan can cover ground quickly to get a hand in the face of jump shooters when playing zone defense. Expect Arizona's zones to give the Rebels fits early, which will enable the Wildcats to again jump out to a lead.
The Wildcats are averaging 41.0 rebounds per game while holding opponents to 42.8% shooting. Budinger, Radenovic, McClellan and Williams are all averaging more than five boards a game while guys like Hill and Brielmaier are each averaging 2.3 rebounds per game in limited roles. Hill's hand injury is healing well and the freshman should see more time on the floor against the Rebels. If he does, expect his averages to continue to rise.
The Rebels are averaging 36.0 rebounds per game and like the Wildcats will attack the offensive boards all night long. Arizona's defense is good enough to force the Rebels into taking enough bad shots that there should be plenty of rebounding opportunities for both teams when the Rebels have the ball. If the Rebels get their fair share of offensive boards, this game will be closer than Arizona fans would prefer.
REBOUNDING EDGE: EVEN
This game will most likely be played at the same high octane pace as the New Mexico State game. If so, missed shots being hoisted in the transition game will have the basketball caroming all over the court. The team that grabs these rebounds and/or loose balls will get the edge here. The problem is that both teams are scrappy and will most likely each get their fair share of boards over the course of the game. What worries me is it is always more difficult to rebound out of zone than a man defense. When playing zone, whichever team is more disciplined in spotting an opponent and boxing them out will win here. Right now, it's too close to call.
UNLV's point guard Kevin Kruger understands what it takes to compete in the guard oriented Pac-10 (he transferred from Arizona State when his father was named as head coach of the Rebels). Kruger has faced Shakur in the past and will not be intimidated by the Wildcats or the fans. How Kruger helps his teammates adjust to playing in the McKale Center may go a long way in determining whether or not the Rebels can compete with Arizona for 40 minutes.
UNLV, like Arizona, prefers an up tempo game so it will be interesting to see if the Rebels try to break from their tendencies and attempt to slow down the Wildcats. I don't think they will as they will be too tempted to let their own athletes try to outrun Arizona. In the end, Arizona's depth and balanced scoring will be too much to overcome.
ARIZONA 95 UNLV 80