Coming off their first loss of the season — a 69-65 defeat at the hands of the Butler Bulldogs in the Las Vegas Invitational championship game — the No. 16 Arizona Wildcats look to get back to winning ways Wednesday, when they host the Texas Southern Tigers in McKale Center.
It’s the first of a two-game week for Arizona with the second game being a run-in with the No. 8 Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles.
Couple those two games with a busy academic calendar, and it puts the Wildcats (5-1) in a “high pressure point” of their schedule.
Texas Southern enters with a 4-2 with all four wins on the road.
In fact, Texas Southern has a wacky schedule in which all — literally all — of its non-conference games are on the road. No, really. Take a look:
And why is its schedule so unorthodox? It makes Texas Southern a lot of money.
"At some of these big schools, you can get around $350,000 to put back into the school," head coach Mike Davis told the Houston Chronicle.
With that money, as the Houston Chronicle reads, “the Tigers can easily travel well — experiencing the same accommodations as the Dukes and the Kansases of the world. They can stay in nicer hotels, eat better meals, have better experiences.”
It is an interesting way to create a schedule, but so far the Tigers have started off well.
“Texas Southern is a very good team,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “Any time you win four road games it says a lot about who you are. I don't care where those games are played at, it's not easy to travel, it's not easy to win on someone else's home gym, especially at the brink of the start of things where everybody has a lot to play for.”
The Tigers are led by two high-scoring guards in Zach Lofton and Dulani Robinson.
Lofton, a 6-foot-3 junior, averages 20.5 points per game, though he is only shooting 40.0 percent from the field and 11-39 (28.2%) from 3.
Robinson, a 5-foot-8 point guard that transferred from Pacific, is the team’s second-leading scorer (15.4 PPG) and the team’s leader in assists (5.8 assists per game). Unlike Lofton, Robinson has been red hot from 3 this season, hitting 15 of 36 (41.7%) of his attempts from behind the arc.
In the frontcourt, the Tigers have Derrick Griffin, a 6-foot-7 sophomore forward. Griffin was the SWAC Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, First team All-SWAC and an honorable mention AP All-American in his freshman season a year ago.
He set the conference single-season record for consecutive double-doubles with 12 and had 17 for the season, the most ever in a season by a SWAC player.
This season, Griffin is averaging 12.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game on 77 percent shooting. The sophomore has posted double-doubles in three of his last four games.
“When you have a front court player who's leading the nation in offensive rebounding and shooting 77 percent from the field and a backcourt that scores 35 to 40 points a game, you're that team that nobody wants to play,” Miller said.
Griffin was once a highly-touted tight end prospect coming out of high school. He was a four-star recruit and was committed to the Miami Hurricanes, but never suited up in south Florida because of academic issues.
Texas Southern ultimately benefitted.
“They have an outstanding backcourt; they have one of the best athletes I've seen in [Derrick Griffin] who plays the five or the four for them,” Miller said of the Tigers. “Looking at his offensive rebounding, I've never seen that many offensive rebounds on a stat sheet through six games. He's leading the nation, and he is shooting 77 percent from the field on top of that. Combine that with 3-point shooting, a backcourt that I think is a high major backcourt, it could be a backcourt in our Pac-12 conference.”
The last time Arizona faced Texas Southern was the 2015 NCAA Tournament, when the Wildcats beat the Tigers 93-72 in Portland, Oregon.
Despite that game taking place only two seasons ago, Arizona’s Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who played sparingly, are the only two players on either team’s current roster that played in that game.
Still, Miller hasn’t forgotten about the Tigers.
“When we played Texas Southern two years ago, I just happened earlier in that season watching the Michigan State-Texas Southern game around Christmas, and that really got my attention,” Miller said. “Texas Southern went to Michigan State and won. They really haven't stopped. They're that team in November that plays everybody tough, that beats somebody that gets the nation's attention. They move through their conference season and their conference tournament and they end with 20 wins.”
The Tigers are coached by Mike Davis, who was the head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers from 2001-2006. He then went to UAB before landing with Texas Southern in 2012.
“They're a very well coached team,” Miller said of the Tigers. “Mike (Davis) has been around. He has been in a Final Four himself as a head coach at Indiana, he's coached in the Big Ten conference, did an outstanding job at UAB, and now he is doing an outstanding job at Texas Southern. He knows what to do, he recruits very talented kids. A lot of them are older because they have been at a four-year institution or maybe a JUCO prior to going to Texas Southern. They play with tremendous discipline and poise, they have purpose to what they do. Offensively, his players are on the right places on the court.
“We have to be ready to go and I fully expect one heck of a battle.”
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Network
Stream: Pac-12 Live
Radio: Arizona IMG Radio Network (Brian Jeffries & Ryan Hansen)
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