Improving on a game by game basis has been the goal of this basketball team since the beginning of the season. Despite underwhelming victories against UMKC and Adams State, the Wildcats impressed many against Kansas on the road, despite suffering an overtime loss. On the other hand, Cal-State Fullerton enters tonight's game with a 3-0 record. However, they haven't played the type of competition that Arizona should present in tonight's matchup.
The Titans are led by head coach Bob Burton, who knows this matchup should be the most difficult that his team has faced so far this season. The Titans haven't played since November 17th, so whether that will be a factor or not remains to be seen.
Fullerton is a team that's dominated by upperclassmen. There isn't a single underclassman on the Titans roster, so you can expect quality experience and veteran leadership from the Titans. Cal-State is led by junior Josh Akognon, a transfer from Washington State. Akognon has been tremendous for the Titans so far, averaging 25.3 points per game while playing just 29.3 minutes per game. He's also been very effective shooting the basketball, hitting on 51% of his shots from the field, including 47% from behind the arc.
The Titans are also led by two seniors, Frank Robinson and Kenneth Alexander. Robinson, averaging 15.7 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game, is a 6'4 forward from the Los Angeles area. Alexander, a 6'6 forward is averaging 10.3 points per game and 2.7 rebounds per game. While undersized, these two could present matchup problems for the Wildcats as seen in past games this season. The Wildcats have a renewed desire to play defense, which his exactly what they'll have to do to contain Cal-State's offensive attack.
It's also expected that Scott Cutley, perhaps Cal-State's best player, will play tonight. Cutley, a 6'5 forward who averaged 15.6 ppg & 9.5 rpg last season, has been out for over a month now after fracturing his ankle.
Cal-State is very similar to a team that Arizona had problems with just a week ago in Adams State. Fullerton loves to shoot the basketball from behind the arc, averaging 22 three point attempts per game. Despite shooting that many, they've been very effective doing so, hitting on 43% of them. While Arizona contained the three point shot versus Kansas, they'll need to continue that tonight against Cal-State Fullerton.
While undersized, the Titans play a lot of different players. There are nine players on their roster that average ten minutes or more. You can expect them to utilize that to their advantage, looking to present matchup problems for the bigger Arizona roster. On paper, Arizona has a significant size advantage in the paint. However, they'll still need to go out and exploit that advantage versus the Titans. We saw them under-utilize that advantage against Adams State, despite Jordan Hill being very effective. The usage of Jordan Hill, and the rest of the Arizona front line, will be a key towards Arizona's success against Fullerton.
O'Neill hasn't decided on his starting lineup, but has mentioned that he may continue going with a bigger, more physical lineup.
For a young team, the Wildcats have pleasantly surprised interim head coach Kevin O'Neill with their continued focus and desire to get better on a daily basis. Despite a number of distractions during the first month of the season, this young team has continued to grow and mature in front of many, which was the main goal for this squad going into this season.
Despite losing to Kansas on the road, this team has a new found level of confidence heading into tonight's game. They realize that they can play with just about anyone in the country, despite being just 3-2. That level of confidence will need to continue, along with the theme of continuing to get better on a game by game basis in tonight's game versus Cal-State Fullerton.