The No. 19 Arizona Wildcats are back on the road this weekend, this time taking on the Texas A&M Aggies in a Saturday morning matinee in Houston, Texas.
The game will be held at the Toyota Center — the home of Houston Rockets — making this the second time this season the Wildcats will be playing at an NBA arena.
The first time — a 69-62 loss to Gonzaga in STAPLES Center — didn’t go so well.
“I thought part of what hurt us in Gonzaga is that we were in shell-shock there at the beginning of the game,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “I talked to our players about not taking NBA 3s. You get confused sometimes on what line is the college line and what line is the NBA line. We took our first five 3s from the NBA line and then that just shows me that they’re not auditioning for the NBA as much as you’re just not aware.
“But you play in a couple of those, you build your team’s confidence and it can get you ready for what’s to come. And for us, Houston is a big city and we like to recruit the state of Texas and being able to play in the state of Texas is good and it’s not that far of a trip for us.”
The Wildcats (9-2) are coming off a 64-54 win against Grand Canyon, a game in which they committed a season-high 19 turnovers. Starting point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright is out with a high-ankle sprain, and Arizona’s turnovers have piled up in his absence.
Arizona’s leading scorer Lauri Markkanen is also going through a rough patch, as he’s struggled in the last two games, but Miller thinks the 7-footer will “play great” versus Texas A&M (7-2).
As a whole, Arizona’s freshmen are going through “baptism by fire” because they are being forced to play through their mistakes due to the team’s lack of depth.
The three freshmen — Markkanen (16.3 PPG), Rawle Alkins (12.4), and Kobi Simmons (12.2) — are Arizona’s leading scorers.
The Wildcats’ returning leading scorer, Allonzo Trier, is expected to miss another game, though former UA head coach Lute Olson thinks the sophomore will be back next semester.
Trier has missed Arizona’s first 11 games for unspecified reasons.
Since losing to Gonzaga earlier in the month, the Wildcats have won their last three games, but both of their losses this season have come away from McKale Center.
The last time Arizona played Texas A&M was in 2008 when Nathan Walkup hit a game-winning 3 to lead the Aggies to a 67-66 win in College Station.
That is the only time Arizona has to lost Texas A&M, though, as it is 6-1 all-time versus the Aggies, including a 78-67 win in McKale Center in 2007.
Few teams can match Arizona’s size in the frontcourt, but Texas A&M is one of them.
The Aggies start 6-10 center Tyler Davis and 6-9 forward DJ Hogg in the frontcourt, plus they have 6-9 forward Robert Williams and 6-10 center Tonny Trocha-Morelos playing heavy minutes off the bench.
“They’re a big team,” Arizona center Dusan Ristic said of Texas A&M. “We need to use our size.”
Davis is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, posting 14.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He is shooting 64 percent from the field.
Hogg (12.6), Williams (10.3), Trocha-Morelos (10.0), and Admon Gilder (12.6) also average double-figures in the scoring column.
Williams averages 2.6 blocks per game in just 20 minutes.
As a team, the Aggies rank as the 36th-best offensive team and the 43rd-best defensive team in college basketball, per Kenpom.com. Arizona ranks 27th and 28th, respectively.
Texas A&M struggles to shoot the ball from the perimeter, making just 29.9 percent of its 3-point attempts this season. Hogg is the team’s best shooter, connecting on 19 of his 55 (34.1%) attempts.
The Aggies excel inside the arc, though, as they have the tenth-best 2-point field goal percentage in the nation, checking in at 57.8 percent. The rim-protection of Arizona’s big men will certainly be put to the test.
“We match up well size-wise with Arizona,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “Arizona is big at the 3-4-5 positions, and we know that playing, and hopefully beating, a team like Arizona will help us in the long haul. Our practices have been good but we have to make shots — they are the best defensive team we’ve played so far this year.”
Texas A&M has an offensive rebounding percentage of 38.4 — the 14th-highest in college basketball.
The Aggies’ defense profiles as “some zone”, per Kenpom.com, so expect to see some of that against Arizona.
Texas A&M’s two losses this season have come against Pac-12 opponents in UCLA and USC and its best win was against Virginia Tech in the Wooden Legacy tournament.
Arizona, behind UCLA, is the second-best team on Texas A&M’s schedule thus far, per Kenpom.com.
How to watch Saturday’s game
Time: 10 a.m. MST
Announcers: Doug Sherman and Doug Farham
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