The Arizona Wildcats have experienced quite a roller coaster season to this point. That roller coaster is slowly making its way up as the Cats have won four straight with the last three being close wins against legitimate competition.
Arizona (7-3) will look to make it five in a row on Saturday night when they travel to Albuquerque for their second true road game of the season against the New Mexico Lobos (3-7) at 6 p.m. MST.
Will Arizona cruise to victory despite visiting what was once one of the toughest places to play in all of college basketball? Is this a trap game? Will the roller coaster hit a very sudden drop? Let’s look at three ways Arizona can avoid an upset:
While Arizona has generally won the turnover battle against its opponents this season, only losing it three times, the Wildcats are prone to sloppy minutes. In regards to turnovers with this team, when it rains, it pours. And in a tough road environment, that can be a death knell.
The Lobos don’t have a lot going for them right now but they do force 20 turnovers per game thanks to their aggressive style of defense. With that, New Mexico can stay in the game against a more talented Arizona team.
As talented as Arizona is, there’s plenty of youth who have not dealt with an environment early in this season like The Pit. The main ball handlers, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Allonzo Trier, must stay under control in order to get a win.
Control the interior
Offensively, what “control the interior” can really be read as is: Feed Deandre Ayton. At this point, that goes without saying. He’s averaging 20.5 points on nearly 61 percent shooting and has just been an all-around man-beast.
Defensively is where things get a little tricky. Arizona has been pummeled on more than one occasion on the inside. In its last two games away from the comfort of McKale Center, it was straight up embarrassed by opposing bigs. In the UNLV game, big man Brandon McCoy dismantled Arizona for 33 points on 13-of-17 shooting. And Texas A&M’s center, Tyler Davis scored 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, New Mexico is a good opponent to try and put that opposing big dominance to rest. Their best scorer and rebounder, Sam Logwood, has returned to the Lobos after a leave of absence but might not play Saturday.
UNM’s tallest rotation player is 6-foot-10, and last game its starting frontcourt consisted of 6-foot-9 Joe Furstinger and 6-foot-7 Jachai Simmons.
Arizona’s primary men in the middle, Ayton and Dusan Ristic, will have quite a size advantage. Plus, the Lobos are one of the worst teams in the nation on 2-pointers, shooting a putrid 42.6 percent, ranking 327th out of the 351 teams in college basketball. If Arizona can’t stop them down low, who can they stop?
Don’t play down to the competition
While the most obvious, this is also the most important of the three keys. Arizona might be just the 23rd-ranked team in the nation but it still stands among the most talented teams in the country.
Talent-wise, New Mexico doesn’t stack up. But in a road game in one of the tougher places to play, Arizona can’t play down to New Mexico’s level and give it a chance to steal one from the Wildcats.