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Preview: Arizona hosts North Dakota State after quick turnaround

Two games in three days is good preparation for conference play

Alabama v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

After beating the New Mexico Lobos in Albuquerque on Saturday night, the Arizona Wildcats boarded a 50-minute flight back to Tucson where they will host North Dakota State on Monday.

A quick turnaround, sure, but something they have to get accustomed to with conference play less than two weeks away.

“That’s life in the Pac-12,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “We play Friday-Sunday, Thursday-Saturday. And it’s almost like playing at Utah and Colorado where between games you fly, so we have to be ready to go. It’s a great preparation for the Pac-12 Conference for our team.”

The Wildcats probably don’t mind returning to the court so soon, though.

Arizona (8-3) will be going for its sixth straight win Monday. The Wildcats are coming off their best offensive performance of the season in which they shot 64 percent from the field and 9-13 from 3 in an 89-73 win over the Lobos.

Rawle Alkins made his first start since returning from a broken foot and scored a career-high 26 points on 9-11 shooting.

“When you get the start, you get the feel a lot faster and you stay warm,” said Alkins, who was sidelined for 10 weeks and missed the first nine games of the season. “It was just a good game.”

The sophomore was flanked by Allonzo Trier who had 22 points and Deandre Ayton who added 14 points and 13 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season.

The trio combined for 62 points on 22-29 shooting.

“We got the other team’s best perimeter player guarding me, they’re doing all they can on Deandre, and you have a guy like Rawle Alkins who is getting guarded by their third best player of the floor,” Trier said. “You should be able to do some damage.”

Arizona currently has the No. 6 offense in the country, according to KenPom, but it is still a work in progress on defense.

KenPom pegs Arizona as the No. 64 defensive team in college basketball. The Wildcats are surrendering 103.3 points per 100 possessions, which is the worst defensive efficiency a Miller-coached Arizona team has ever posted.

New Mexico sank 12 of 34 3-point attempts and tallied 12 second-chance points on Saturday.

“We broke down on some assignments and gave up some wide open 3s,” Trier said. “We let a guy (Dane Kuiper) hit six 3s in one half, shooting the most wide open 3s he’ll shoot in his life. We just gotta be a little bit better.”

North Dakota State (5-5) is similar to New Mexico in that it is a small team that largely relies on the long ball to score.

45 percent of the Bison’s shot attempts come via the 3-point line, and they are shooting 37.7 percent from that distance. They have made 10 or more 3s in five games this season.

That said, the Bison play at a far slower pace than the Lobos, ranking 290th in adjusted tempo, and are solid defensively holding opponents to a shooting line of .416/.329/.683.

NDSU fared well in its lone game against a Pac-12 foe this season when it fell 75-65 to the USC Trojans back on Nov. 13 in Los Angeles. The Bison made 10 3s and a had a double-digit lead at one point before squandering it away in the second half.

NDSU’s five losses this season have come against opponents with a combined record of 38-10.

But North Dakota has never faced Arizona before, and it surely has not faced a team as talented as these Wildcats, especially now that Alkins is back in the lineup.

“Simply put, we’re a much better team with him,” Miller said.

“I’ve said it time and time again, but a lot of why we were well thought of in the offseason was who we returned. ... Rawle was one of the best freshmen in the country a year ago, and I believe he’s a better sophomore."

How to watch

Time: 7 p.m.

TV channel: Pac-12 Networks

Live stream:

Announcers: Roxy Bernstein (play-by-play) and Don MacLean (analyst)

Game notes

  • Arizona freshman point guard Alex Barcello is questionable for Monday’s game. He missed Saturday’s game with a left ankle sprain which he suffered last week in practice. Trier will likely take over backup point guard duties if Barcello is unable to play.
  • Ayton continues to rack up the double-doubles, which now includes nine in his first 11 games this season. Ayton already ranks third nationally in double-doubles this season and fourth in UA freshman history just two behind Bob Elliott and three behind Michael Wright and Al Fleming.
  • Arizona has won 45 consecutive non-conference home games, which is the longest streak in program history. The Wildcats have won 75 of their last 77 home games going back to the 2012-13 season and have a home record of 128-13 (.907) under head coach Sean Miller.

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire