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Arizona basketball: Wildcats face Northern Colorado and Santa Clara to start week

A Big Sky foe, followed by a familiar foe for a few reasons

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UNC’s Jordan Davis averages 23.6 ppg
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats have three games ahead of them this Thanksgiving week, but we only know two of their opponents so far. A date with either Vanderbilt or Butler awaits on Friday depending on how Thursday’s games go in Las Vegas.

But here’s a look at the first two opponents:

Northern Colorado Bears

Arizona continues the mid-major portion of its schedule by facing two more of them this holiday week. On Monday, the Wildcats host Northern Colorado before the two teams head to Las Vegas for the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational.

Northern Colorado (1-2) is coming off an 88-72 loss at Santa Clara on Saturday. Sophomore guard Jordan Davis had 24 points and 10 assists; his first double-double of the season. He had his third-straight game of scoring at least 22 points to open the season for the Bears, and is the UNC top scoring threat.

Head coach Jeff Linder is in his first year in the college coaching ranks. He was an assistant coach at Boise State. The Broncos made two NCAA tournament appearances and won its first Mountain West Conference Championship while he was there.

Current Colorado head coach Tad Boyle spent four years at the helm in Greeley before moving onto Boulder. His assistant, B.J. Hill, took over UNC for six seasons before he was fired in April this year for “serious and concerning allegations”.

Weird stuff seems to happen in Greeley: earlier in February some mysterious symbols appeared on UNC campus, this Halloween a guy got his teeth shot out with a BB gun and there was that bizarre 2006 punter stabbing. Plus, the city smell sometimes bothers the UNC students.

Northern Colorado was picked to finish second-to-last in this year’s Big Sky Preseason Coaches’ Poll.

Santa Clara Broncos

On Thursday, Arizona will face Santa Clara. Former Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek patrols the sidelines for the Broncos. Sendek is also in his first year at Santa Clara, looking to rebound from a tough time in Tempe.

The Broncos (2-2) will face Sacred Heart Monday at home in a final tune-up before traveling to Las Vegas. Sophomore guard Jarvis Pugh (17.8 ppg) and Jared Brownridge (13 ppg) lead the Santa Clara offense. Pugh had a season-high 26 points against Northern Colorado at home on Saturday.

Santa Clara is looking to revive their basketball program after not reaching the NCAA Tournament since the 1996 Steve Nash days. The school remodeled the basketball locker room and home court, and also signed Sendek, the 2010 Pac-10 Coach of the Year.

Sendek is admired in the coaching ranks. Arizona’s Sean Miller worked for him as an assistant at North Carolina State and spoke very highly of him in this piece. It was a surprising move that ASU fired Sendek after an 11th place Pac-12 finish, even though the Carnegie Mellon alum had some tough Sun Devil teams that included James Harden and Jahii Carson.

“Arizona State has been one of those places where if you didn’t cheat, you didn’t have any chance. And Herb won and did it without compromising the university,” said Jeff Van Gundy, Sendek’s former roommate, as told to the Mercury News.

Sendek worked as an assistant for Rick Pitino at Providence and Kentucky. He got his first head coaching job at Miami (Ohio), who eventually upset Arizona in the 1995 tournament. It’s good to see Sendek back on the sidelines to erase the lasting image of him dining alone in the food court after ASU’s conference tourney loss in Las Vegas.