After their latest loss, the Wildcats (6-2) have dropped to 20th in the most recent AP Poll.
Sean Miller announced Monday that starting point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright will be out for roughly eight weeks because of the high-ankle sprain he suffered versus Texas Southern on Wednesday.
Miller also noted that Allonzo Trier, who has missed Arizona’s first eight games for unspecified reasons, was cleared by the NCAA to travel to Saturday’s game versus Gonzaga in LA, but that it does not necessarily mean he is closer to returning to action.
“The only good sign is when he walks out there and plays,” Miller said Monday.
There is still no timetable for Trier’s return, meaning the Wildcats will continue to have just seven scholarship players at their disposal.
“I think it’s going to be a great challenge for us,” Miller said of Tuesday’s game versus the Anteaters. “I think any team that we play is going to be a great challenge, especially without Parker and the limited numbers. Those are our circumstances and it’s up to us to improve and find a way.”
The Wildcats struggled to slow down a potent low-post scorer in Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski, who recorded 18 points on Saturday, and the Anteaters have one of their own in Ioannis Dimakopoulos. The 7-foot-2 center from Greece averages 11.4 points per game.
Dusan Ristic and Miller both said defending the big man should prove to be a learning opportunity for Arizona.
“He’s a good player,” said Ristic, who has played against Dimakopoulos on the European circuit. “We have to be ready as a team against him. He’s a good low-post scorer, but also he can shoot from the outside, so we have to be ready for him.”
The last time Arizona played UC Irvine was in 2014. The Anteaters actually had a five-point lead midway through the second half in McKale Center before the Wildcats took control of the game with a 30-8 run to pull away.
“(UC) Irvine a couple years ago came into McKale and played I thought as well as any team maybe that season against us,” Miller said. “(They) played a 2-3 zone, are very, very well-coached on offense… a team that when you add up all their parts, the sum is greater than maybe an individual player is.”
The Anteaters had 7-foot-6 center Mamadou N’Diaye — who Rondae Hollis-Jefferson dunked on — last time and this time they have another giant in Dimakopoulos.
“I think the unique characteristic that they have, they are big and I think that’s part of their philosophy,” Miller said. “But not only are they big, they have a style that really puts that size to a big advantage, playing zone on defense and changing sometimes to man. Around the basket they’re an excellent rebounding team and they have their players really setup for success on offense, they can do it a number of ways.”
UC Irvine is the seventh-best defensive rebounding team in the country, grabbing 77.8 percent of its opponents’ misses.
The Anteaters are also the 55th-best defensive team, per Kenpom.com, but struggle on offense, ranking 302nd.
UC Irvine shoots 41 percent from the field and 31 percent from 3, while opponents are shooting 35.5 percent and 30.3 percent against it, respectively.
Like Arizona, which is without Trier, UC Irvine is without its leading returning scorer. Luke Nelson has missed the Anteaters’ first eight games with a hamstring injury. He averaged 13.7 points per game last season and was on the All-Big-West team.
It is unclear if Nelson will play against Arizona, as he will only return when his hamstring is “100 percent healed.”
With Nelson out, senior Jaron Martin has paced the Anteaters, scoring 13.8 points per contest, while dishing out 3.6 assists.
The 5-foot-10 point guard is only shooting 39.8 percent from the field and 31.0 percent from 3, however.
How to watch
Time: 8 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Network
Announcers: Ted Robinson & Don MacLean
Stream: Pac-12 Live
Following Tuesday’s game the Wildcats head east to face the Missouri Tigers in their first road game of the season.
For a brief preview of the entire week ahead, click here.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire for more Arizona basketball coverage.