Arizona fell out of the national rankings with three straight losses last week, but coach Sean Miller insists the team’s lackluster start could have some long-term benefits. The Wildcats face another tough early-season test Saturday at UNLV, which opened with six straight wins before losing 77-68 in overtime to Northern Iowa on Wednesday.
After falling to North Carolina State, SMU and Purdue in the Bahamas, the Wildcats returned home Wednesday and shot 60 percent from the field in a 91-56 win over Long Beach State. Allonzo Trier scored 15 points to lead Arizona, which was ranked second nationally before struggling defensively and shooting 18.5 percent from 3-point range during three games in the Bahamas. “The more you’re over here (unranked), the healthier I think it is to get their attention,” Miller told reporters. “Because right now, where we’re at, there is no cutting corners. We have to coach these guys hard. We need leadership to develop. We need toughness to develop. And we have to do a great job of doing all of the little things, the effort things.” Miller should have no problem getting his players to focus against UNLV and the duo of freshman center Brandon McCoy and junior power forward Shakur Juiston, who average a combined 25.1 rebounds per game.
TV: 10 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
ABOUT ARIZONA (4-3): Trier averages 23.1 points on 58.1 percent shooting to lead an Arizona team that has struggled at times without the leadership of senior guard Rawle Alkins, who remains out with a broken foot. Freshman guard Brandon Randolph has made a case for increased playing time with a total of 27 points in his last two games, including a season-high 17 points in last Friday’s 89-64 loss to Purdue. The Wildcats have been vulnerable on the defensive end, but freshman center Deandre Ayton continues to impress at 19.3 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.
ABOUT UNLV (6-1): McCoy was named Mountain West player of the week after averaging 21.3 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in wins over Rice, Utah and Southern Utah at last week’s MGM Resorts Main Event but was held to nine points and seven boards in Wednesday’s loss to Northern Iowa. The Rebels have also received a spark from junior guard Kris Clyburn, who scored a team-high 20 points against Northern Iowa before exiting the game in overtime with a head injury. Senior guards Jovan Mooring and Jordan Johnson have been key factors in the Rebels’ strong start, but they were a combined 5-of-29 shooting in Wednesday’s loss.
1. Arizona recorded an 82-70 win in the last meeting between the teams on Dec. 19, 2015 in Tucson.
2. UNLV is averaging 92.3 points per game with eight players averaging at least 5.0 points.
3. Wildcats senior center Dusan Ristic scored a career-high 20 points against UNLV in the 2015 matchup.
PREDICTION: UNLV 88, Arizona 85