Game Preview: Arizona Hosts NAU

The one constant most people are used to going into an Arizona men's basketball season opener is that Lute Olson would be on the bench as the head coach of the Wildcats. However, that won't be the case tonight with Olson's leave of absence still taking place. While this isn't something the team was expecting, they know they must turn their attention to the task at hand; Northern Arizona.

The Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (1-0), from the Big Sky conference, have been a regular on the Arizona basketball schedule for the past 23 years; And over those last 23 years, the Wildcats have defeated the Lumberjacks every time they've played. In 2006, the Wildcats defeated the Lumberjacks 101-79, but gone from that NAU team are its top three scorers. They return nine players from last year's squad, but also bring in a large number of new players. Whether that works to their advantage, or Arizona's advantage, remains to be seen.

Usually, NAU is a perimeter oriented team, but with their top three scorers gone from last year that were strictly perimeter oriented, they'll be looking inside more frequently at the likes of senior Kyle Landry and sophomore Nick Larsen. You can expect NAU to still live out on the perimeter, but having a presence or two inside the paint could offset that. Their liking for the perimeter was evident in their first game of the year where they attempted 21 three point field goals.

NAU opened up their season on Sunday against Adams State, another future Arizona opponent, and got the victory winning 78-65. The Lumberjacks were led by junior guard Josh Wilson (20 points) and Kyle Landry (16 points off the bench). If the Cats want to start things off well this year on the defensive end, they can start by containing both Wilson and Landry.

The Wildcats and interim head coach Kevin O'Neill announced the starting lineup for tonight's game that will feature two freshman, two sophomores, and a senior. Freshman Jamelle Horne will get the start at the power forward spot after shining during Arizona's exhibition schedule. Fellow freshman Jerryd Bayless will handle the point guard duties, and be teamed up with senior Jawann McClellan in the backcourt. Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill will fill out the remainder of the starting lineup.

O'Neill threw a challenge out to his team yesterday when he claimed that he doesn't feel this team plays hard. Defense and playing hard are the two constants that O'Neill continues to drill into the minds of these players, and those two things will need to be evident when facing the Lumberjacks from Northern Arizona.

We've all seen what can happen if a big time program, like Arizona, takes a lesser known opponent lightly. Teams like Kentucky, Ohio State, and Michigan State provide evidence that you can't afford to take an early schedule opponent lightly, no matter what conference or level of basketball they reside from.

While things will feel a little different during tonight's game against NAU with Coach Lute Olson missing in attendance, interim head coach Kevin O'Neill should have the team ready to take on Northern Arizona. Defense, rebounding, and taking care of the basketball have been preached in practices throughout the early part of the season, and especially since the Wildcats last exhibition game against Team Georgia, so expect those things to be areas of emphasis against the Lumberjacks tonight; And areas that the Cats succeed at.

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