ESPN’s College Game Day will be broadcasting tomorrow from McKale Center on the University of Arizona campus. Tucson surely welcomes the national exposure, but there’s no need to promote that evening’s basketball game between the Wildcats and UCLA Bruins.
That’s the hottest ticket in the conference this week. And a spotlight game for the national media since it features a clash between two top-five teams, No. 4 Arizona and No. 5 UCLA.
Some in the media have tagged this one as the ‘game of the year’ in the Pac-12 Conference.
A great time to be a senior, too. Tomorrow is also Senior Day, so the team’s only two seniors, guard Kadeem Allen and forward Talbott Denny, will get a little extra love from the fans.
This game will also leave a mark in conference history. Not only will it be the first time in nine years that two top-five teams will meet in a Pac-12 contest, it’s also just the seventh time that’s happened since conference records have been kept.
If Arizona wins, it will assure the Cats of at least a share of the Pac-12 title.
For fans who like lots of scoring – and who doesn’t? – tomorrow’s game should be a treat. The Bruins are averaging 92 points a game. Arizona is averaging 75 an outing, but has five players averaging double figures and the Cats put 90 points on the board yesterday in a win against USC to run their record to 26-3, 15-1 in conference. UCLA is 25-3, 12-3.
Once they got a sluggish start out of the way, the Cats finished the first half of the USC game on a 12-2 run and wound up shooting 51 percent from the field and 55 percent from behind the arc. Their 3-pointers added 33 points to their score (11-for-20) and when they went to the free-throw line, they canned 88 percent of those attempts.
The defense was also a key factor in the 90-77 win, forcing 14 Trojan turnovers and turning those into 23 points. And just to round out the domination, the Cats won the battle on the boards, 30-27.
Allonzo Trier, the sophomore sensation who missed the first 81 days of the season, scored a game-high 25 points – including four 3-pointers – to lead the offensive attack. After testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug that, he says, was unknowingly given to him by a friend before the season began, he was sidelined until the substance left his system and has been back on the floor for just the last 10 games.
Ironically, he returned in time for the first meeting with UCLA. In that Jan. 21 game, he was instrumental in helping the then-No. 14 Wildcats upset then-No. 3 UCLA, 96-85. The 6-5 guard from Seattle showed no signs of rust, scoring 12 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and dishing out four assists in 27 minutes on the floor.
With just 10 games played so far, Trier will be the freshest pair of legs on the court tomorrow and is back in scoring rhythm with back-to-back 20+ games; he scored 21 against Washington last week.
But it’s Arizona’s twin towers that have no doubt been a big part of the Bruins’ practice plans this week. The Cats have the capability to put a pair of 7-footers on the court at the same time with Lauri Markkanen and Dusan Ristic on the roster. Markkanen shares the team scoring lead with Trier, each averaging 15 points a game.
Markannen’s play against the Washington schools last week earned him Pac-12 Player of the Week honors, as well as being named Freshman of the Week by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
The last game between these two teams was played at Pauley Pavilion. This one is in Tucson where the Wildcats have won 21 consecutive home games and 69 of the last 70. That home-court advantage may prove to be the difference in this one.
If all this weren’t enough incentive for the Cats to show well, there’s yet another reason to consider. Trevon Duval is expected to be in the stands.
Duval is considered by many to be the nation’s top prep point guard. His addition to the Arizona program would be a huge recruiting coup.
The senior at IMG Academy in Florida has cut his short list of suitors to five, including Arizona. That list includes Duke and Kansas, which he has already visited.
Kansas won during his visitation there. Duke beat North Carolina when he visited that campus.
Now, Arizona coach Sean Miller has to see to it that the coveted prospect also leaves Tucson riding the wave of a huge victory and his ears still ringing from the loud and raucous support provided by the wildly-excitable student section they call the Zona Zoo.
It’s time to Bear Down, hoops fans.