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Arizona basketball: Wildcats set for Thanksgiving rematch against Santa Clara in Las Vegas

The Herb Sendek-coached Broncos are led by Jared Brownridge who dropped 44 points on the Wildcats last Thanksgiving

NCAA Basketball: Wooden Legacy - Arizona Wildcats vs Santa Clara Broncos Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, Jared Brownridge and the Santa Clara Broncos exposed a major flaw in the Arizona Wildcats.

The Wildcats beat the Broncos 75-73 in overtime on Thanksgiving in Fullerton, but it became clear Arizona’s roster was missing a key ingredient — a defensive stopper.

Brownridge dropped an “easy” 44 points on Arizona’s defense, the second highest scoring output against the Wildcats ever. Nobody wanted to get in his way.

“He was closer to scoring 60 in that game than he was 20. He missed some good shots,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “I think that says a lot about last year’s team for us. Everybody saw that defensive stopper role and they just ran as fast as they could the other direction. It was about other things and we fought that throughout the year, and although we might have improved somewhat, that never became part of last year’s identity.”

Fast forward a year, and the Wildcats are set to face Brownridge and Santa Clara once again — in a similar setting, too. The game is on a neutral court and it’s during Thanksgiving Break. However, this time they’ll play in Las Vegas instead of southern California.

And, this time, Miller is hoping somebody will take on the challenge of guarding Santa Clara’s leading scorer.

“This year’s team, I think that we have a better opportunity to be tough, more responsible, and to be able to get big stops,” Miller said.

The Wildcats have added athletes like Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons to their roster plus Kadeem Allen — who Miller has said is as good as a defender he’s had at Arizona — is a year older, a year more experienced.

In short, the Wildcats are better equipped to slow down Brownridge this time around. Hungrier, too.

“We’re going to go in there and have to be ready,” Allen said. “Brownridge had a big game on us last year. With this team this year we’re more hungry and we have a chip on our shoulder and we’re ready to get the job done when we go to Las Vegas.”

Santa Clara enters Thursday’s game with a 3-2 record and, unsurprisingly, Brownridge is leading the Broncos in scoring, pouring in 16.8 points per game.

Junior forward Jarvis Pugh is right beside him at 15.6 points per game.

The Broncos have a new head coach and are playing an uptempo style this season, averaging five more points per game compared to a year ago.

Santa Clara, which was 0-5 heading into last November’s game against Arizona, is better than it was last season, which could spell trouble for the Wildcats.

“It’ll be a well-coached team, playing with a great college guard, a team that should’ve beaten us last year,” Miller said. “Nobody knows that more than them and we have to be ready to go.”

They meet again

A familiar face will be roaming the Broncos’ sideline in Las Vegas.

Herb Sendek, the former ASU head coach, is now at the helm at Santa Clara, replacing Kerry Keating in March.

While Miller and Arizona used to face Sendek and ASU twice a year, Miller’s relationship with Santa Clara’s new head man goes deeper than that.

Miller was an assistant coach on Sendek’s staff on two different occasions — at Miami (OH) from 1994-1995 and at NC State from 1996-2001.

In 2001, Miller left to join Thad Matta’s staff at Xavier.

“I respect Herb Sendek as much as any coach in our game. I consider him a friend, he did a lot for myself and my family,” Miller said. “Years ago, I worked on his staff, I certainly got to know him well as a coach, [then] even more so at ASU, and Santa Clara is really lucky to have him as their coach.”

Sendek was let go by ASU after the 2014-15 season, compiling a 159–137 record in nine seasons in Tempe, and spent the 2015-16 season away from basketball.

During Sendek’s year off, he and Miller, no longer set apart by the UA-ASU rivalry, could resume a normal friendship.

“When you don’t play against each other, you can talk a little bit more, help each other more and that really hasn’t been a part of our relationship because we’ve always been rivals or at least in the last six, seven years,” Miller said.

The rivalry returns on Thursday, though, and Miller is not a fan.

“I’m looking forward to getting through that game,” he said.

How to watch

Time: 8:30 p.m. MST

TV: Fox Sports 1

Streaming: Fox Sports Go

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire