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Honolulu no vacation for Arizona

Many fans and college basketball analysts are already looking ahead to a championship game between No. 4 Arizona and No. 18 San Diego State when the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii tips off this Saturday. While Arizona should cruise in its opening-round game against East Tennessee State, a second round matchup between the winner of Hawaii and Miami (Fl.) will prove anything but easy.

Solomon Hill's senior leadership on and off the court has Arizona ranked fourth nationally.

Hawaii and Miami are each very good basketball teams.

The Warriors (5-3), playing out of the Big West Conference, do have three losses this season. However, one included a heartbreaking 78-77 overtime loss to tenth-ranked Illinois. A second loss came against No. 24 UNLV on the road. Hawaii is averaging 43 rebounds per game and feature five players who average over nine points per game. If there’s a problem for the Warriors in a tournament setting it’s that Hawaii does not go deep into its bench, instead relying on six and sometimes seven players to get them through 40 minutes of action.

Miami (7-1) remains unranked, nationally, but is far from a pushover. The Hurricanes were upset by FCS school Florida-Gulf Coast in the second game of the season. As shocking as the 63-51 loss was at the time, it also served as an effective early-season wake up call. Miami has won its last five games, including victories over Detroit (77-62) and then-No. 13 Michigan State, 67-59. Durand Scott (15.6 ppg) and Shane Larkin (14.8) lead five Hurricanes in double figures scoring each night. The Hurricanes rely on an eight-man rotation, and as a team shoots 47.7 percent from the floor. Notably, Scott and Larkin have shot incredibly well this season. Scott is connecting on 58.8 percent of his field goals and 44.4 percent from behind the arc. Similarly, Larkin is shooting 55.0 percent from the floor and 51.7 percent from behind the 3-Point line. A further note is Scott did not play in Miami’s game against Florida-Gulf Coast.

Assuming Arizona does get past either Hawaii or Miami, and San Diego State wins its bracket, a showdown with the Aztecs will definitely prove to be a noteworthy tournament final.

SDSU (9-1) has won nine consecutive games following a season-opening loss against Syracuse (62-49) at the Carrier Classic, played outdoors on the flight deck of a U.S. carrier. The Aztecs have already beaten Pac-12 representatives USC (66-60) and UCLA (78-69), setting up a potential hat-trick against Arizona on Christmas Day. SDSU, much like Arizona, uses as many as 10 players in its rotation. The team is led by Jamaal Franklin’s 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Two other Aztecs, Chase Tapley (13.9 ppg) and Xavier Thames (10.4) average in double figures. SDSU is averaging 72 points per game and has held no less than seven opponents to 62 points or less this season.

Arizona enters the tournament on a roll.

The Wildcats are prohibitive favorites to win the Diamond Head Classic, further emboldened by last Saturday’s thrilling 65-64 upset over then-No. 5 Florida. Arizona came off its early season-defining victory by then throttling Oral Roberts on Tuesday, 89-64, by shooting 57.6 percent from the floor and holding the Golden Eagles to a 38.3 field goal percentage.

The Wildcats (9-0, 2-0 away) feature three players averaging in double figure scoring, led by the backcourt duo of Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson. Combined, the Arizona guards are averaging 27.5 points, 6.6 assists, and 3.8 steals per game. Solomon Hill, Arizona’s senior forward, is also off to a strong start this year doing a little bit of everything on the court. Through nine games, Hill is averaging 12.9 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals per outing while leading the team in minutes played at 30.6.

Early in the campaign, Arizona rattled off consecutive victories by final scoring margins of 21, 22, 43, and 28. However, when the schedule got tough, the tough remained going as Arizona defeated a gritty Southern Miss team by eight points before rallying to overcome Clemson on the road 66-54. Those tests, of course, were preludes to Arizona’s memorable win over Florida as the Wildcats outscored the Gators 7-0 in the final minute of regulation to win by a point after Lyons’ game-winning bucket with 7.1 seconds remaining.

Aside from Arizona’s matchup against ETSU, all three of Arizona’s other potential opponents enter this weekend’s holiday tournament playing well. The Wildcats have prided themselves on remaining focused on the task at hand so far this season. Still, the beaches of Hawaii have always served to play tricks on any team visiting the islands and Arizona will be no different. Arizona will experience a four-hour time difference in Hawaii, as well as having to overcome the challenge of having the proverbial target on its back. A particular concern would be playing local favorite Hawaii in round two. Hawaii nearly missed producing a significant upset over Illinois in Honolulu earlier this season and would be licking their chops at the opportunity to knock off the fourth-ranked team in the country in front of their hometown fans.

First round action begins Saturday Dec. 22. Here’s a quick rundown of the brackets:

BRACKET #1
Mississippi vs. Indiana State (ESPNU, 11 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time)
San Diego State vs. San Francisco (ESPNU, 1 p.m. HST)

BRACKET #2
Arizona vs. East Tennessee State (ESPNU, 5:30 p.m. HST)
Miami (Fl.) vs. Hawaii (ESPNU, 7:30 p.m. HST)

If Arizona wins and continues to remain in the championship bracket, the Wildcats will face the winner of Miami and Hawaii on Dec. 23 at 6:30 p.m HST. The game is scheduled to be televised on ESPN2. If Arizona loses its opening round game against ESTU, they will play on Dec. 23 at 4:00 p.m. HST on ESPNU.

*The Diamond Head Classic Championship game will be played on Christmas Day at 4:30 p.m. HST. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

Follow me on Twitter @GaryRandazzo, and follow the website @WSRArizona.

  • The match ups are interesting, but... I want our Cats to destroy ETSU! I still feel pain from their upset of us when we were a 3 seed and they were a 14 seed in 92. I had hopes of getting to the final four that year.

    In thinking about our most painful losses, I would put that ETSU loss at #3 on my all time list. #1 would be the Santa Clara loss (we were a 2 seed) and every time I see Nash I think of this. #2 would be the last second heartbreaking loss to UNLV.

  • '05 Illinois game was worst loss for me
    Utah triangle and 2 #2
    Santa Clara #3

  • This. I still have nightmares of that Illinois game.. I also have to add the NC game vs Duke ..

    Time to nut up or shut up

  • Gary Randazzo

    I have to agree liver97. The Illini loss was something that my friends and I "never" discuss. The Utah game in 1998 was equally brutal to play like that with so much on the line. By comparison, at least in the Illinois Elite Eight Game Arizona was playing some of its best basketball for the game's first 36 minutes. The Utah loss felt like someone stole our players and replaced them with look-a-likes.

    After that, I had grown so accustomed to great Olson teams being upset in the first round that they all basically felt the same back then.

    WSR Publisher National Basketball Recruiting Analyst Football Writers Association of America U.S. Basketball Writers Association

  • yeah I won't discuss it either but I do feel like we only now just recovered as a program despite the sweet 16 and elite 8 since '05.

  • Pretty much what you all just said. Illinois and Duke. The Duke one hurts less now due to the national smackdown we gave them a couple years ago, although I will never completely get over them robbing Lute of two titles. Two-title coaches are definitely more highly thought of than single title coaches, and Lute was certainly of that caliber- does anyone really think Calhoun, a 2 title coach, is better than Lute?

    But that Illinois game still kills me. I remember I had to drive around the Northwest part of Tucson for 2 hours to cool off afterward.

    This post was edited by blueleaf11 16 months ago

  • That Illinois game burned a hole in me. My mom and I were going to dinner, and we readied to leave her house (of course the game was on her t.v.) when it looked as if we had built an insurmountable lead. She received a phone call, so I turned the game back on. That one still hurts.
    Had we left on schedule I would've received the news of our horrific demise hours afterwards like so many found out about our win in the New Mexico Bowl. I'm not sure which is preferable.

  • Read Lute's Book!!! He changed EVERYTHING after ETSU. Thats when he started recruiting 'athletes' instead of BB players. As I recall that team was 5 guys who were all between 6'6" and 6'7" who just ran circles around us... as we played some high low post game conceived of in the 1930's.

    The greatness of Lute was born out of that loss. He recognized the need to change and he did. He was already accomplished enough to tell every one to screw off, but he humbled and re-invented himself. It was a seminal moment for him and AZ as a result. 1997 was not possible without that loss.

    Duke is the worst loss for the 2 Championship reason noted above and also because the better team did not win that day - the F***ing refs were corrupt. For those of you who have never seen it, I can post a minute by minute blow of the refs 'mistakes'. They were paid or had other motivation against AZ, it is the only explanation. Lute started to say something after the game ("I thought Jason Williams fouled out in the first 1/2...") but Livengood shut him up. Digger Phelps was talking about an entire year later on ESPN. Sporting News did a story on it almost 2 years later. Boheim (who got F***ed in the game before) has always been vocal about it. But Arenas was priceless, challenging Coach K to a re-match! I also have met two different Duke Alumni, who, upon finding out I am from AZ, but entirely unsolicited on that game specifically, have suggested they 'stole' one. I will go to me grave knowing that game was fixed. Watch the ref looking directly at Battier tripping Jefferson with his hand and no call. Dunleavy drained a three after that B.S.

    Illinois is #2 for me. Lute leaving Shakur in after the 28th turnover was proof he had lost it at that point. That is the worst in game coaching decision of his career.

    I know someone who was at all of the BB practices leading up to Utah and the coaches had the team preparing for whoever came after Utah - they literally overlooked Utah and thought they did not need to prepare for the Utes. Big mistake. #3 for me.

    Technically, on paper, the very worst loss ever for AZ should be the NIT game last year. F***ing BUCKNELL in the NIT and AT HOME!!! That's pretty much like the Wildcats losing in a High School tournament here in AZ - which they would have on that day. That is, by far, the worst I have ever seen any Wildcat basketball team play, and it's not even close. Miller can win 5 National Championships and he will still not be the coach Lute is because Lute would have NEVER, EVER lost that game.

    This post was edited by wineknow 16 months ago

    "Arizona has no tradition" - Bill Walsh "We have a tradition of kicking Bill Walsh's ass" - Teddy Bruschi

  • Yes, that Duke game should have been ours and it did feel like the fix was in, but it wasn't much of a surprize to see Duke get preferential treatment like that and they were the 1 seed. Illinois was given some huge breaks to come back from 14, but not many thought we would beat them in the first place as they were supposed to be a juggernaut too. So even though we probably should have won both of these games, it wasn't as heartbreaking to me because we were underdogs and not expected to win. Yes, these hurt big time, but they aren't on my top 3 list.

    We were the talk of both tourneys when we lost as a 3 and 2 seed in the first round - big time chokers in everyone's account. BTW, I did read Lute's book, and that is a good point about the ETSU loss changing Lute's approach.

    Finally, on the Bucknell loss - we lost our heart the game before not making the NCAA's. I mean, who really gives a hoot if we had won the NIT or not? None of our players came here to "make" the NIT.

  • 3 minutes left, up 15 and lose. That's a heartbreaker to me. Thisclose to the final 4. Definitely top 2 for me.

    Time to nut up or shut up

  • Back to the tourney at hand - for the first game I just want to the players to get through it injury free. It shouldn't be too tough. Round 2 is where it gets interesting.

    Time to nut up or shut up

  • Gary Randazzo

    Agreed about Bucknell. Losing to ASU killed the squad. I remember Hill after the game looking around as if to ask himself how do they just score 80+ on us?

    Arizona is "not" an NIT school so I'm not surprised by the loss whatsoever. It was definitely bad and the team played incredibly poor but as RoundCat points out, no one, including the coaching staff wanted to even be there that night.

    WSR Publisher National Basketball Recruiting Analyst Football Writers Association of America U.S. Basketball Writers Association

  • information I could have used before the game...since I was in Vegas banghead

  • This thread is depressing. This tourney is going to challenge us no matter who we play after tonight. Lots of very athletic teams that are the types that will give us trouble this year. Our freshmen have struggled against good athletes in the post. I would also love for Solo to totally take over a game like we know he can. I don't like saying this but he was a better scorer when he had 4's guarding him. He's shooting 3's at a nice rate but I like him getting to the basket and finishing at the rim.

  • That makes my point even stronger. I think Lute was a better coach than Calhoun, and Calhoun stumbled into 3 titles and will be remembered as a "legendary" championship coach.

    Lute, unfortunately, with the single title to his name will not be regarded as highly 20 years from now, simply because of that stat. Plenty of coaches have won a title that either got lightning in a bottle one year, got incredibly lucky in the tournament, or were legitimately good but just weren't able to get another.

    Lute is the latter, and the fact that he doesn't have two is a shame... and the reason he doesn't have two is because we were freaking robbed by probably the worst officiating ever (wineknow isn't the first to suggest corruption) makes it even worse.

    Referencing wineknow's post, there is a reason why multiple articles were written about it, and a nationwide consensus outside of North Carolina was formed regarding that game's officiating. I hate blaming officiating, I think it's incredibly weak... but this is an legitimate exception to that policy and it certainly helps to have major sportswriters across the country agree with you.

  • Gary Randazzo

    Great post. I agree about Hill getting into the paint. His drive against Florida to make it 64-62 was so big and so clutch.

    Three games in four days should warrant if not demand more minutes for the bench players, particularly Chol who's energy could serve as a pick me up to the team.

    To your point, though, this will be a great test for our big men again going up against smaller, quicker players. Last time against Southern Miss, Zeus was trying to find a body to post up on rather than establishing a presence and making himself a big pass target.

    WSR Publisher National Basketball Recruiting Analyst Football Writers Association of America U.S. Basketball Writers Association

  • I know we want to discuss the old losses and they do depress. However, we have a baby winner starting to grow and this is a very definitive weekend. Assuming we win tonight and I am, look at the body of work from Miami. They are playing better than anyone we have faced except for Florida. If we lose to them, it will certainly cut into our national stature more than it warrants.

    If we win this tournament, we are set on the national stage as a national challenger. I personally think San Diego State has the high ranking because they beat UCLA. They really haven't beaten anyone else of note. They have been way over publicized. This is exactly the right time to draw them. In the end it will go down as a quality win.

    In my opinion we are the 4th team in ranking, but not really the 4th best team by a ways. Winning this tournament will go a long ways to solidify that honor. Thank goodness Gonzaga isn't here also.

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