Arizona will face a stiff test tonight when the UTEP Miners visit McKale Center for a late-night tipoff. The Miners won their season opener by 20 points (69-49) over Oral Roberts thanks to a stifling interior defense and 17 points from junior center John Bohannon. Meanwhile, Arizona looked strong on the offensive end of the floor in their own season-opening victory over Charleston Southern; a game in which five Wildcats scored in double figures.
Arizona reserve guard made 4-of-6 shots coming off the bench for Arizona against Charleston Southern.
Date: Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012
Time: 8 p.m. MST
Location: Olson Court, McKale Center (14,538), Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: IMG College/Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries/Matt Muehlebach) [Sirius/XM: 123/190]
TV: FSN (Justin Kutcher/Marques Johnson)
Twelfth-ranked Arizona (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) draws a difficult opponent in UTEP. The Miners are coached by former USC coach Tim Floyd, who is well-known for drawing up defenses uniquely designed to stop specific opponents. While at USC, Floyd employed a variety of zone defenses, including a Triangle & Two. Wildcat fans should not be surprised if they see some gimmicks from Floyd and the Miners tonight.
UTEP (1-0, 0-0 away) are a half court team that relies more on size than speed and quickness. The Miners attempted only seven 3-Pointers against Oral Roberts. Tonight, fans should expect more of the same as the Miners will try and go right at Arizona’s freshman center and power forward to try and get both Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett into early foul trouble. When Arizona has the basketball, expect Sean Miller to preach patience from the sideline to ensure that Arizona is attacking UTEP’s zone with consistent inside-out passing and attacking.
Tonight will be a battle of wills and tempos. While the Wildcats will look to push in transition, UTEP will, at times, send just one player to the offensive glass to try and limit Arizona’s fast break opportunities.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Arizona needs to rebound the basketball on the defensive end of the floor. Although the Miners shot 46% from the floor in their first game of the season, UTEP is not a great shooting team. However, what they do excel at is playing hard-nosed defense that begins by jumping the outlet passes on missed shots to slow the opponent down. Arizona not only needs to board well, but execute the outlet pass timely and efficiently.
A heavy burden will fall on the shoulders of Arizona’s Mark Lyons to try and dictate tempo with the basketball in his hands. Lyons was excellent against Charleston Southern as he scored 17 points and dished out six assists while not committing a single turnover. More specifically, Lyons knew that his team was struggling to score in the second half. As a result, 15 of his 17 points came after intermission. Lyons is a quick, smooth point guard that can score. To this end, Lyons needs to know when to push and when to get Arizona into its half-court sets against what will prove to be a very good UTEP defense. If Lyons is in control, Arizona will be in control.
Lastly, Arizona needs to maintain focus and again not worry about the scoreboard. Barring a total meltdown by UTEP, or a close-to-perfect game by Arizona, tonight’s contest is likely to be a low-scoring affair. The Wildcats need not worry about 80 points and “Free Tacos”. The bottom line is winning and the way to produce a victory is by rebounding the basketball, making the extra pass on offense and playing sound defense.
PREDICTION: ARIZONA 73, UTEP 67
Follow me on Twitter @Gary Randazzo, and visit the WSR Chat Room during the game for live conversation with the WSR basketball staff and Wildcat fans watching from afar.