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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Sights, sounds and major keys from Arizona’s preparation for Saint Mary’s

Justin Spears

Arizona senior guard Kadeem Allen talks to reporters during Friday’s media session before the Wildcats take on Saint Mary’s in the round of 32. Allen won his first game as a starter in the NCAA Tournament against North Dakota Thursday. 

SALT LAKE CITY — The second-seeded Arizona Wildcats are set to take on No. 7 Saint Mary’s Saturday and the Gaels come into the matchup after beating VCU. SMC has experience playing against the Wildcats in scrimmage situations from 2013-2015 so both are familiar, except Arizona has a trio of freshmen the Gales haven’t seen. 

Friday’s media session was interesting, but the game Saturday should spark some flavor. Here are the keys for Arizona against Saint Mary’s and the notable sights and sounds from Friday. 

Justin Spears’ keys to the game:

Key No. 1: The Gaels are led by Joe Rahon, Calvin Hermanson and Jock Landale who were a part of the scrimmages against the ‘Cats and finished second in the West Coast Conference behind No. 1 Gonzaga, but they haven’t seen the type of athleticism Arizona presents. 

UA head coach Sean Miller said freshman forward Rawle Alkins is a combination of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson, which is great company to be in. Alkins went 8-for-8 against North Dakota and 2-for-2 from three-point range so he was attacking the rim, which is something VCU did against SMC in the second half Thursday. Kadeem Allen racked up 10 points and didn’t shoot a single three-pointer, but he went 4-for-5 from the free throw line as well as 75 percent from the field. So if Arizona isn’t feeling it from beyond the arc, the Wildcats can and will utilize their athleticism to attack the rim. 

Related: Saint Mary’s Randy Bennett adopted Lute Olson’s coaching style

Key No. 2: Fortunately for Sean Miller, he doesn’t have to rely on Allonzo Trier to have a standout performance in order for UA to win. However when Trier is locked in, it’s almost certain the Wildcats will win except for when he scored 28 points in their home loss to UCLA. Trier only shot 4-for-11 against NDU, but still scored 18 points. Against NDU, scoring a sloppy 18 points can cut it, but for a hungry team in Saint Mary’s where it will expose Arizona in any way it can, he needs to be more efficient scoring. 

Sights and sounds: 

Rappin’ Ray

Ray Smith hasn’t traveled with the team all season after medically retiring, but he’s the soul of this team at the end of the day. During Friday’s media session, Arizona Daily Star photographer Mike Christy caught Smith and assistant head coach Book Richardson enjoying a free style rap session in the locker room. 

Down under reunion?

Arizona forward Keanu Pinder and Saint Mary’s center Jock Landale were teammates for Australian national under-19 team and played in China before the FIBA World Championships. Pinder touched on the most memorable moment the two had when venturing in China. 

“We went for a walk one time and we just saw these dogs… dead hanging up in a Chinese market. Pretty crazy right? It was a little disturbing to me, but that’s just their way of life in China,” Pinder said. 

China Amirite?

Saul Bookman keys to the game:

Key No. 1: Arizona will have to play better defense overall than it did against North Dakota, St. Mary’s lack of athleticism should aid in that. Though the Gaels are a fundamentally sound team, they were rattled by the pressure VCU was able to put on them, especially in the second half of Thursday’s ball game.

Kadeem Allen will spend a lot of time on point guard Joe Rahon. Rahon is not an error-prone guard and it will be interesting to see if Allen can get into his personal space enough to rattle him. The rest of the team will have to play better help defense as well, something Allen was visibly frustrated with in the first half against North Dakota. On several occasions Allen got on teammates for not being in the right position, leading to easy opportunities for the Fighting Hawks.

Key No. 2: It will be interesting to see if Dusan Ristic will show up to play in the first half against Jock Landale. Landale could be a key figure tomorrow in keeping the Gaels competitive. Offensive rebounding has been an issue from time to time for Arizona, allowing this tomorrow could have devastating ramifications. Landale is St. Mary’s best big man, and if Ristic comes out slow and lost like he did yesterday he will get torn up.

Sights and Sounds:

Traveling party

The traveling contingent of Arizona is interesting. Soon-to-be full-time Athletic Director Dave Heeke is traveling with the team alongside interim Athletic Director Erika Barnes and Senior Associate Athletics Director Mike Ketcham. It is a past, present, and future of AD’s here in Salt Lake City.

Barnes, who took over for former AD Greg Byrne, has done her part in being the bridge between Byrne and Heeke. She is sharp and all-in on Arizona. Time will tell if she gets an offer to be an AD somewhere, my hunch is that she will.

Heeke took some time to speak with the media today, you can see it here:

Heeke will be traveling as far as the Wildcats go, its all about hearts and minds at this point. Setting the foundation is crucial for the future success of Athletics and he isn’t oblivious to that.

Related: That walk-on life

As for Ketcham, his position is similar to Barnes, however, he has been linked to possible openings around the country, more recently the UNLV AD job. It seems like Athletics has a healthy dose of talent in Athletic Administration that doesn’t appear to be dwindling any time soon.

Another Miller shocked by Wichita State

Sean Miller’s brother, Archie, witnessed the same fate as his brother a year ago, a first round loss to the Wichita State Shockers. This is the second year Wichita State was a double-digit seed and the second year they took out their frustration on a Miller-led team.

Christopher Deak keys to the game:

Key No. 1: For the Wildcats’ tomorrow night, stopping the Gaels’ Jock Landale is the key to locking up their spot in the Sweet Sixteen. The junior center nearly averaged a double-double this season at 16.9 points and 9.4 rebounds a game.

After a tough night from Dusan Ristic down low, he will have to bounce back and put together one of his best defensive, and rebounding, nights of the season.

RELATED: Wildcats defensive issues must come to a halt against the Gaels

Arizona head coach Sean Miler noted that he’s continued to challenge Ristic to become a better defensive rebounder ahead of the matchup with Saint Mary’s, but also said that it’s going to take the whole team to shut down Landale.

“Tomorrow our entire front line will be challenged because I think they have just a great, great player,” Miller said.

Key No. 2: The Gaels turned the ball over 15 times in their opening round matchup with VCU and they have struggled in that department all season. They averaged 10.7 turnovers a game during the regular season.

Their turnover margin of -1.3 ranked 257th in the nation compared to Arizona who ranked 154th in the country with a margin of +.47.

While neither team’s biggest strength is their ball security, the discrepancy between the teams could play a real factor.

The Gaels’ play at one of the slowest tempos in the nation, 350 out of 351 according to, but it didn’t help them control the ball on Thursday. Against a defense like Arizona’s, particularly a defender like Allen, the Gaels’ have to play a clean game tomorrow.

“We played with single-digit turnovers [against UND], which again is a great sign for us,” Miller said.

For the Wildcats’, even though they have a positive turnover margin for the season, they average 11.3 turnovers themselves. Keeping that number in single-digits tomorrow will help determine who punches their ticket to the Sweet Sixteen.

Follow Justin Spears, Saul Bookman and Christopher Deak on Twitter

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