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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona men’s basketball welcome UC Irvine Anteaters

Rebecca Marie Sasnett

Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski scrambles for a loose ball during Arizona’s 86-68 win against Cal State Northridge on Sunday in McKale Center. The Wildcats play UC Irvine on Wednesday in what head coach Sean Miller said will be one of the toughest home games this season.

In what Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller said will be one of the toughest tests of the season in McKale Center, the UC Irvine Anteaters (2-0) are coming to town. Fresh off back-to-back wins, the Anteaters face Arizona in the Wildcats’ final game before heading to Hawaii for the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

“In my opinion, we’ll be playing one of the best teams that we’ll play in McKale all season,” Miller said. “[UC] Irvine has all of the makings of a tournament team, a team that win in the tournament. They have a [7-foot-6] center, great coach, [they’re] very organized on offense, very organized on defense. We’re going to jump up significantly in terms of the level of competition that we’re going to face.”

The Wildcats (2-0) also won their first two games of the season, with each victory coming by at least 18 points. Despite the high margin of victory, Arizona has struggled in the first 15 minutes of each game, scoring just 23 points against Mount St. Mary’s and 25 points against Cal State Northridge in that span.

Additionally, Arizona is lights out in the last five minutes of the first half, scoring 17 points against Mount St. Mary’s and 12 points against CSUN in that span. Against Mount St. Mary’s, the Wildcats started the game 5-20 from the field for a paltry 25 percent from the field.

That discrepancy is large enough to have the attention of Miller and his staff, something he touched on after the Mount St. Mary’s win.

“We played well in stretches as a team,” Miller said. “There were times where we didn’t, which was expected.”

The Anteaters have five players averaging over eight points per game this season, including a pair of players near 12 points per game. UC Irvine returns everyone but two players from last year’s team.

Leading the team in minutes played, points scored and 3-pointers made is guard Luke Nelson. However, Nelson is not nearly the most notable Anteater. That distinction is tied between the Anteaters’ twin towers: 7-foot-2 Ioannis Dimakopolous and 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye.

Having one 7-footer is usually enough to change an offensive game plan, but with two, that requires coaches to completely build the game plan around them. Luckily for the Wildcats, there’s a pair of 7-footers on their squad, too.

While Kaleb Tarczewski and Dusan Ristic may be just 7-feet tall each, the UA duo has the kind of skill that Dimakopolous and Ndiaye simply don’t have. Tarczewski is one of the better defensive centers in the entire country, something that Miller has spoken on at length, and Ristic has the offensive skill set to make even Tarczewski look bad, something which he did at length during the Red-Blue Game.

From Tarczewski and Ristic to Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona has the front court depth to effectively match up with UC Irvine.

“For us, it’s a great thing to have at multiple positions,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “We’ve got guys who can guard multiple players. It’s a great feeling to have and scary sight for others.”

Regardless of what happens tonight, one thing is for certain: The game will be decided in the paint with the two pairs of twin towers.

Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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