Arizona basketball: NAU coach Jack Murphy's return represents the Lute Olson era

Christian Petersen

The Arizona Wildcats host the NAU Lumberjacks and head coach Jack Murphy, who returns to where his college basketball career began.

Time: 8 p.m. MST

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Size seems to be the first thing opponents of the Arizona Wildcats will discuss, perhaps while craning their necks as their collars tighten. Sean Miller's team has more size than most, and against the NAU Lumberjacks and first year coach Jack Murphy, size is again the glaring advantage.

Arizona (3-0) hosts the Lumberjacks (2-3) and a familiar face in Murphy Wednesday evening in McKale Center, and with a frontline of 6-foot-7 Ephraim Ekanem and 6-foot-6 Gaellan Bewernick, NAU will be giving up inches by the dozen. The Lumberjacks didn't outrebound an opponent until Saturday's 70-62 victory against Campbell, and in two games against big-conference teams -- Oregon and UNLV -- they especially struggled.

The Runnin' Rebels outrebounded NAU 47-21, and it could be the same story if Arizona continues its recent domination of the glass.

The small-ball, three-guard lineup of NAU could remind some of Arizona's first opponent, Charleston Southern. As a team, however, NAU is only hitting 34 percent of its long balls, a good sign for the Wildcats to avoid a Charleston Southern-esque nailbiter against a small conference opponent. Though as a team the Lumberjacks are hardly a threat from three-point range, that could be more a problem of them being one-dimensional than a sign they can't hit the three-pointers down when left open.

The backcourt is where the talent lies for Murphy. Senior Gabe Rogers, a 6-foot-2 guard, leads NAU with 16.6 points per game but is only shooting 32 percent from the floor. Perhaps the more dangerous threat is freshman Dewayne Russell, a 5-foot-11, 155 pound guard from Peoria, Ariz., who is averaging 15.5 points and four assists per game.

Russell is much more of an efficient threat than Rogers. He is shooting 49 percent from the floor and letting it fly from three-point range, taking 4.6 three-pointers per game and connecting on 48 percent of his attempts.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats pose a three-point threat to the Lumberjacks, guard Michael Dunntold the NAU athletics website.

"We are expecting to see a lot of athleticism," said senior guard Michael Dunn. "They like to get up and down the court. They have a lot of good athletes and they have been shooting the three-pointer really well this year. We will need to get out on the shooters."

The Wildcats will likely counter by working inside-out. The obvious weakness of NAU should give Arizona the perfect opportunity to make throwing the ball into the low post a habit more than a forced action. As Miller's team continues to guide his team, Wednesday's game will give his veterans practice in first thinking, then executing something they're not used to just yet.

While throwing the ball in the post seems like the easy way to victory, playing without true post scorers for the entirety of their careers might be holding back UA veterans in Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes. Against the Lumberjacks, that should be their first priority.

The comfort of the young big men, of course, will be something to gain from this one as well.

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