Rough road ahead for NAU basketball; UA Cats up next

The Northern Arizona men’s basketball team has embarked on its tour of Arizona.  It got off to a bumpy start in Prescott on Wednesday when it got bounced by Brigham Young University at Tim’s Toyota Center.

And tomorrow’s stop in Tucson won’t be any smoother.

“We are playing everywhere in the state this year, with games in Flagstaff, Prescott, Tempe, and Tucson,” explained NAU head coach, Mike Adras.

“If that does not qualify us as Arizona’s team, I don’t know what does.”

Well, ‘Arizona’s Team’ got beat by Utah’s BYU by 35 points.  The Jacks, who have three starters back from a squad that went 19-12 last year, put three freshmen in their starting line-up and thought things were going well for the first couple of minutes, when they ran up a 4-0 lead.  But the Cougars responded with a 15-0 run of their own and cruised to a 87-52 win.

Now the mid-major school gets another player from a major conference when it meets the University of Arizona Wildcats in McKale Center.  The Cats, an Elite Eight team last year, is struggling somewhat early in the season and is off to a 5-2 start after a couple of unexpected losses against Mississippi State and San Diego State (as well as a major stumble in an exhibition loss to Seattle Pacific in their second game).

But, unfortunately for the 2-5 Jacks, Arizona seems to have found their groove again with a couple of line-up tweaks head coach Sean Miller put in Tuesday night against New Mexico State.

The result was a solid 83-76 win on the road, as the Cats shot better than 50 percent (51.7) from the field for the first time this year and posted a season-high 19 assists with the addition of a third guard in the line-up.

Arizona was a nationally-ranked team until their loss to San Diego State last week.  They entered the season ranked No. 16.

So now NAU gets the Cats on the uptick – and looking to climb over any team that gets in the way as they work their way back into the national standings.

The Jacks will likely have to score more than the 67 points a game they are averaging, although Arizona has only scored more than 67 in half of their six games so far.  NAU is also a pretty good rebounding team, averaging about four more than their opponents; BYU had just six more than the Jacks (38-32).

But the Cats enter tomorrow’s game with four players averaging in double-digit scoring, while James Douglas, NAU’s outstanding freshman guard from California, is their only contributor in that category, averaging 12.6 points per game.

However, it may be something as simple as holding on to the ball that spells the difference against Arizona.  The Jacks piled up 24 turnovers against BYU, as the Cougars capitalized often, scoring 28 points just off NAU miscues.

Like BYU, the Wildcats are a quick team – and will be every bit as opportunistic as the Cougars.

But Adras, who is in his 11th year at the controls, knows his opponent well and won’t be surprised by what he finds on the floor in McKale.  The two teams have met each of the last six years, and eight out of the last nine, with Arizona managing to pull out a tight 63-58 win last December.

The Lumberjacks will wrap up their ‘Arizona tour’ with a Dec. 17 game in Tempe when they get to hone their game against another Pac-12 member, Arizona State.

They can use that as a gauge to find out whether pushing through all this top-level competition has improved their game in time to be ready for their Big Sky opener with Sacramento State two weeks later.

A win to open conference play would make all the bumps along the way worthwhile.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)