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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Wildcats meet Runnin’ Bulldogs for first time

Courtesy+of+Matthew+Thayer+%2F+The+Maui+NewsArizona+forward+Stanley+Johnson+dribbles+down+the+court+during+Arizonas+72-68+win+against+Kansas+State+at+the+EA+Sports+Maui+Invitational+in+the+Lahaina+Civic+Center+in+Maui%2C+Hawaii%2C+on+Nov.+25.+Johnson+and+the+Wildcats+take+on+Gardner-Webb+on+Tuesday+for+the+first+time+in+program+history.

Courtesy of Matthew Thayer / The Maui News

Arizona forward Stanley Johnson dribbles down the court during Arizona’s 72-68 win against Kansas State at the EA Sports Maui Invitational in the Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii, on Nov. 25. Johnson and the Wildcats take on Gardner-Webb on Tuesday for the first time in program history.

Fresh off a title at the 2014 EA Sports Maui Invitational, No. 3 Arizona men’s basketball faces a completely unknown Gardner-Webb team tonight.

The Wildcats and Runnin’ Bulldogs have never met in each program’s history. Plus, Sean Miller has never faced Gardner-Webb in his coaching career.

You couldn’t tell by looking at the pedestrian 73.3 PPG average, but the Wildcats seem to be hitting their stride on both sides of the ball. Stanley Johnson was just named the Pac-12 Player of the Week, becoming the 36th freshman and Arizona’s 87th player overall to win the award.

Johnson’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Wildcats have struggled with foul trouble in the past few games. Starting center Kaleb Tarczewski has been the worst culprit on the team. Tarczewski has 21 total fouls in six games for an average of 3.5 fouls per game.

As a team, Arizona is averaging 18 fouls per game. In the last game against San Diego State, several critical Wildcats like T.J. McConnell, Johnson and Tarczewski faced foul trouble; this not only changes the game plan, it gives the opposition chances for free points at the charity stripe.

This needs to tighten up as nonconference play really heats up over the next couple weeks.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs may just be 3-3, but they have played some competitive games against teams like LSU and Clemson. Leading the way is forward Jerome Hill, who averages 18.5 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game.

At  6-foot-5, Hill fills the stretch four role for a Gardner-Webb team that starts five guys 6-foot-7 and under. That kind of small ball play that has gripped the basketball hold means

Tarczewski needs to pay extra defensive attention in order to stay in front of the quicker big men.

With that small ball rotation, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are chucking up 24 3-point attempts per game, making 7.5 per game.

It won’t happen often where Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley matchup with such short guys, so this is a great opportunity for the big men. Credit Miller for scheduling this game. The Wildcats will likely come out on top, but Gardner-Webb is the just the latest unique team to come up on the schedule.

Looking back, Mount St. Mary’s presented a team that shot about 25 3-pointers per game, something that helped the UA improve perimeter defense.

UC Irvine boasted 7-foot-5 and 7-foot-2 centers, which allowed the UA bigs to get quality work against another physically imposing front line. San Diego State puts considerable pressure on ball handlers, an aspect that guards like Gabe York and Parker Jackson-Cartwright needed to see.

From Miller’s perspective, no doubt he’d rather have his team see these unique looks now rather than in March.

For an Arizona team that has a game against Gonzaga and Michigan on the horizon, overlooking Gardner-Webb could prove deadly. It’s a classic case of a trap game.

Miller and the coaching staff will definitely preach focus and respect in the lead up to tonight’s action.

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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