Northwestern St.-Arizona Preview
Arizona coach Sean Miller believes the depth of his squad is making up for the fact that it isn't as dominant defensively as it was last season.
The 12th-ranked Wildcats could begin to make strides on that end as they go after a nation-best 42nd consecutive home win Sunday night against a winless Northwestern State team that will be without one of the nation's top playmakers.
Arizona ranked 18th nationally in defensive scoring (59.7) last season on the way to Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles, as well as an Elite Eight appearance.
Although they've been solid in some stretches, the Wildcats haven't been as sharp so far this season. They've allowed opponents to average 65.7 points and are forcing 10.7 turnovers per game while battling some foul trouble through the first three.
After Kaleb Tarczewski and fellow starters Mark Tollefsen and Kadeem Allen each had four fouls in Monday's 90-60 home win over Bradley, Tollefsen racked up four more personals in Thursday's 88-75 win over visiting Boise State.
The Wildcats, however, have a variety of talented scorers to throw at opponents with three players averaging 13.7 points or more to go with a deep bench that outscored Boise State's reserves 38-3. Starting guard Gabe York finished with a career-high 23 points, while Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Allonzo Trier scored a combined 27 off the bench.
"The strength of our team is the depth and versatility," Miller said. "There's not a lot of dropoff from our third-best player, whoever that is, and our ninth-best."
Miller's club is doing it without freshman Ray Smith, a highly touted recruit who suffered an ACL injury. Northwestern State endured a bigger loss Nov. 13 when senior Jalan West went down with a torn ACL in the final minute of a 90-76 loss at Mississippi. The guard had 25 points after averaging 20.0 with a nation-best 7.7 assists in 2014-15.
"We've got to have somebody that's going to step up and show leadership," coach Mike McConathy told the team's official website.
The Demons, however, have scuffled defensively and on the boards. They're giving up 89.7 points per game on 49.2 percent shooting with a minus-8.3 rebounding margin.
That doesn't bode well heading into a matchup with an Arizona team that owns a plus-15.6 rebounding margin. Ryan Anderson, a senior transfer from Boston College, is averaging a team-high 10.3 boards after pulling down 15 against the Broncos.
The Wildcats (3-0), who have never faced Northwestern State (0-3), haven't lost on their home court since a 77-69 loss to California on Feb. 10, 2013.
"We've got to have maximum effort from our players one-through-13," McConathy said. "We can't play that way until these guys buy into it and it's up to them to do that."
"We use the analogy of running to first base in baseball. Everybody on this team can do that better, and that's the effort we've got to have all the time, especially when facing a team as big and talented as Arizona."
Northwestern State has dropped 10 straight versus ranked opponents by an average of 21.3 points since upsetting third-seeded Iowa in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.