Arizona men’s basketball kicks off season against Mount St. Mary’s

Tyler+Baker+%2F+The+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0A

Tyler Baker

Tyler Baker / The Daily Wildcat

Roberto Payne

Each and every member of the Arizona men’s basketball team knows the saying, “Honor the process.” It’s something that the coaching staff has ingrained in the players’ minds since the moment they stepped on the UA campus. On Friday night, the team gets its first chance of the season to do just that.

Fresh off an NCAA tournament appearance, the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers come to the newly renovated McKale Center today at 6 p.m. in a game that can be seen on the Pac-12 Networks.

It’s the first time that almost half the roster will play in front of the full-capacity McKale Center crowd. Due to ongoing construction, the crowd was limited to about 10,000 for both the Red-Blue Game and the exhibition against Cal Poly Pomona.

“We’re very excited for our opening game on Friday night,” UA men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller said. “It’s been a long time coming, and we started this process what seems like an eternity ago.”

Mount St. Mary’s finished last season just 16-17 but defeated the No. 1 seed Robert Morris in the Northeastern Conference Tournament to earn an NCAA tournament spot. The Mountaineers won six of their last eight regular season games to earn that spot.

Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, the top-three scorers from last season all graduated. The leading returning scorer is 7-foot junior center Taylor Danaher, who averaged just 7.1 points per game. Danaher started 26 of the team’s 33 games last year, and, as an upperclassman, will be counted on to step up.

As a team last season, Mount St. Mary’s shot 25.3 3-pointers per game on average, making 9.0 3-pointers per game, good enough for ninth in the nation. As Miller puts it, Mount St. Mary’s presents a great opportunity to improve in the early portion of the season, specifically before the Maui Invitational.

“They have a really true system on offense and defense, [they’re] very organized and they’ll challenge us in a number of ways,” Miller said.

The Wildcats struggled last weekend during their exhibition against the Cal Poly Pomona Broncos. Arizona opened the game just 5-20 from the field before settling down for a 67-51 victory.

Leading the way for Arizona were four out of the five starters scoring in double-figures and the fifth, point guard T.J. McConnell, tallying 11 assists and seven rebounds, nearly compiling the ever-so-rare rebounds and assists double-double.

Guard Gabe York, center Kaleb Tarczewski and forward Stanley Johnson tied for the team-high in scoring with 12 points apiece.

For power forward Brandon Ashley, who’s coming off a broken foot suffered in February, Friday is much more than just a game. It’s his chance to play the game he loves after it was taken away from him last season.

“In all honestly, I actually teared up when they announced my name just for the exhibition game,” Ashley said. “All the love and support that I’ve gotten from the fans of Tucson and Arizona fans all over the country, it’s been amazing. Definitely couldn’t ask for a better supporting group. It’s just special.”

_______________

Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.