No. 3 Arizona (1-0) took down NAU 101-67 on Friday in its season-opener, thanks to a career-best 32-point performance by Allonzo Trier and double-doubles by Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.
UMBC is 0-1, but had an admirable performance at SMU in its season-opener. The Retrievers fell 78-67, but led by seven at halftime.
UMBC went 21-13 last year and returns four starters, including Jairus Lyles.
Lyles is America East’s leading returning scorer at 19.0 points per game. The 6-foot-3 guard scored 24 points on 15 shots against SMU.
The Retrievers also have Arkel Lamar, who made the conference’s All-Rookie Team last year. The 6-foot-5 forward had 23 points and 12 rebounds at SMU, his first career double-double.
Meanwhile, senior guard K.J. Maura, who starts alongside Lyles, was on the America East’s All-Defensive Team last year.
“We know it’s going to be a tough test, and like we’ve done this year, I’m hoping that we can learn from (Friday) and progress,” UA head coach Sean Miller said.
Here are some things to watch for:
The Wildcats only had eight scholarship players available Friday (but basically seven since Talbott Denny hasn’t proven he can play major minutes yet after his ACL injury), but they will be adding at least two players to the mix Sunday in Dylan Smith and Keanu Pinder.
The 6-foot-5 Smith was suspended for the season-opener for violating team rules, while Pinder was suspended for violating NCAA rules.
Smith’s reinstatement is particularly interesting because the UNC Asheville transfer has yet to debut at Arizona.
Miller said before the season that Smith is one of Arizona’s “top seven” players, and mentioned Friday that he has turned a corner and has progressed “in a quiet way” since arriving at the UA.
Aside from just depth, Smith should provide shooting and length, and is yet another player who can distribute.
“He’s one of our team’s best passers,” Miller said.
Smith, who led UNC Asheville in scoring in his lone season with the team, will likely back up Trier at the 2 and Emmanuel Akot at the 3.
Pinder will give Arizona an additional frontcourt player and help UA on defense and the glass.
Arizona might get Brandon Randolph back Sunday, too. The freshman missed Friday’s game due to a concussion, but Miller said he was cleared for Saturday’s full-contact practice.
“If he can play we have to be careful both in terms of how ready he is and what’s best for our team,” Miller said.
Like Smith, Randolph would provide a diverse skill set on the wing and, of course, even more depth. That only helps. Arizona only had four perimeter players available against NAU.
The defense with depth
Speaking of depth, Arizona’s defense should benefit greatly from having a deeper rotation.
The Wildcats struggled to defend NAU in the first half Friday, allowing the Lumberjacks to shoot 48 percent from the field.
Miller thought his short-handed team was tentative both in the paint and on the perimeter, which makes sense all things considered.
“We only had seven guys,” Ristic said. “We couldn’t get any easy fouls.”
Fatigue was a factor, too, Miller thought.
“I don’t care who you are, you go out there for long periods of time and don’t get a sub, it’s hard to maintain the intensity that we wanted to have and I think that was part of the problem tonight,” Miller said.
There were other problems — Miller noted that Ayton wasn’t stopping the ball on ball screens, and Ristic and Ayton weren’t doing a great job altering shots at the rim — but most of Arizona’s problems can probably be solved through practice and simply having more bodies available.
UMBC was respectable on offense last year by any standard, finishing 108th in adjusted offensive efficiency, so Sunday’s game should be a good test.
UMBC finished 25th in the nation at 81.1 points per game, 18th in total 3s made (330), 22nd in 3-point percentage (39.3), and 19th in 3s made per game (9.7) last season.
After Emmanuel Akot had a subpar performance in the Red-Blue Game in October, he tweeted that he was going to “be on his Lonzo Ball” the next time he took the floor.
“Bad game but go off the next!” he explained.
Akot ended up being right, as he had two excellent showings during the exhibition season after scuffling in the Red-Blue Game.
However, Akot didn’t quite perform as well in the season-opener, posting seven points (3-7 FG), five rebounds, and two assists in 27 minutes. In the first half he had just two points and two assists.
“He was very tentative in the first half,” Miller said. “Not sure why, but you forget that this was his first college game. Sometimes you just have to get out there a few times before you get comfortable.”
Akot improved in the second half, and perhaps he can carry that into Sunday’s game when he will likely make his second career start.
How to watch
Time: 4 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Live stream: Pac-12.com/live
How to listen
Radio: Arizona IMG Sports Network (Brian Jeffries/Ryan Hansen)
Satellite Radio: Sirius 126, XM 198
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire