This isn't your typical mid-major. The Oakland Golden Grizzlies bring a strong resume to McKale Center as they face the Arizona Wildcats today, and it's one that goes beyond this season.
Head coach Greg Kampe has led Oakland (8-4) to two Summit League regular season and tournament championships the last two years, which of course means the Golden Grizz have NCAA tournament experience.
The good news is that Arizona (7-4) has scouted them in person. Oakland was in the Tulsa, Okla, bracket with the Wildcats in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, and before the Wildcats fought off the Memphis Tigers, the assistant coaches were out scouting the Golden Grizzlies, who took the Texas Longhorns to the brink, losing 85-81 in the second round of the tournament.
That should be enough to know that this team is damn good.The Golden Grizzlies are led by Reggie Hamilton, a 5-foot-11 senior guard who's scoring 22 points and dropping 4.2 dimes per outing. But shutting down little guys, especially with Kyle Fogg willing to lock down anyone he's asked, isn't the problem for the Wildcats.
Oakland also runs out 6-foot-9, 243-pound rebounding machine Corey Petros. The freshman grabs more than 10 rebounds per game and, along with forward Drew Valentine and his more than eight rebounds a game, could cause more trouble for an Arizona team that saw itself get bullied and exploited in the paint during its loss to Gonzaga on Saturday.
So the Wildcats face a well-coached, diverse, solid all-around team. What do they have to do to pull out a win?
Starting hot would be a good ... start. The Wildcats fell behind 14-0 to Gonzaga, and much of that appeared to be less of a function of anything Gonzaga was doing and more of a function of nobody on Arizona being caffeinated.
Via the Arizona Daily Star's Bruce Pascoe:
"Our slow starts have to be addressed," Miller said. "There's a reason. What's the reason? Who doesn't have enough confidence? And that's my job as a coach. To figure out what we can do to be better starting out.
"We've had some good starts but in a couple of our key losses we've really dug ourselves into a hole. When you play from behind, it's a hard game. Especially against a well-disciplined, talented team in Gonzaga."
Most at fault was Solomon Hill, who got beaten to a pulp by Bulldog forward Elias Harris in the first half on Saturday. He was clearly sitting on the pine for that very reason for much of the first half against Gonzaga, but how he returns to his consistent and aggressive self will be key for Arizona.
The Wildcats could also use a few set plays to get Kyle Fogg going on offense. While Fogg isn't a guy who should relied upon to create plays, Arizona's chances for success definitely increases by getting him open shots. Otherwise, it's hard to get the senior leader into a vocal role. Should he hit some open jumpers early, look for his defensive intensity to increase (I know, it should be the other way around, but such is the case with Fogg) and thus, the energy of his teammates will follow in that path.
By the way, you haven't noticed it because he hasn't shot it enough, but Fogg is shooting a very good-looking 45.2 percent from 3-point range this season.
Finally, the Wildcats need to be the aggressors and draw fouls. They didn't do that well at all against the Bulldogs, totaling nine free throws taken. Sure, they may be undersized, but it's no excuse for Arizona not to use its speed to get into the paint and get the Golden Grizzlies in foul trouble.
At home, that should do the trick to pull off a win that, unfortunately for the Wildcats, just might be one of their better NCAA tournament resume-builders.
There aren't many more chances to earn those with a (oh, so weak) Pac-12 schedule on the horizon.