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What to watch when Arizona hosts Cal Poly on Sunday

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Another tune-up game before Maui

NCAA Basketball: Houston Baptist at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats have their penultimate tune-up game Sunday before they head to Maui, hosting the Cal Poly Mustangs at 3 p.m. MST in McKale Center.

You can watch the game on the Pac-12 Networks, and here are some things to keep an eye on in the contest.

Zone woes

Uh oh. Cal Poly is known for its zone defense and Arizona is known for struggling against it.

Even back in 2013-14 when Arizona arguably had its best team ever, the Wildcats only beat Cal Poly by 11 and only led by eight midway through the second half.

For the current team, this is the first time it will see a heavy dose of zone, so Sean Miller is interested to see how they fare against it.

“We haven’t played against a zone in games, we work on it every day in practice. That will be one of the keys to us being successful Sunday, being able to function and move the ball, not let that type of defense take us out of rhythm,” he said Friday. “When you play against Cal Poly, I think attacking that zone is a big part of any team’s success playing against them.”

Perimeter-oriented teams, which the Wildcats are this season, can exploit zone defenses with hot shooting and dribbling penetration. Arizona has seen a rather drastic uptick in the number of 3s it takes this season, so maybe this team is more equipped to handle zone defense than those in years past.

Having two guards like Brandon Williams and Justin Coleman who can get into the lane and both score and create for others only helps, too.

Watch for Ryan Luther, too. His ability to step out and hit shots hasn’t been on display much in the early goings, but this matchup could be an ideal climate for a breakout.

Lee is back

Sophomore forward Ira Lee has served his one-game suspension and will return to the lineup Sunday with no limitations.

“Ira’s practiced with us every day, so although he didn’t play in our season opener, I wish we had him. He’s full go, and the role that he’ll have on Sunday is the role that he would have had if he’d played in the first game,” Miller said.

Defending rebounding

Miller said Arizona’s defensive rebounding is a glaring weakness — as evidenced by the 16 offensive rebounds it surrendered to a small Houston Baptist team — but Lee should help there, or at least they are counting on it.

“Houston Baptist really had their way with us rebounding. We can fix that,” Miller said. “We can’t do that by making our guys taller, we have to be able to do that by blocking out. We don’t have that room for error. It doesn’t mean we can’t be a good defensive rebounding team, we just have to do it a different way. We’re not blessed with size. Our rebounding has to be done as a team. We have to be physical. You give second shots up like we did the other night, a lot of bad things will follow.”

Cal Poly’s second tallest starter in its opener against Menlo was 6-foot-5 and the Mustangs were one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country last season — 295th of 351 — so it would be a bad sign if the Wildcats can’t control the defensive glass in this game.

Smith’s shooting

As I wrote yesterday, Smith is in a major shooting slump but has continued to help the team in other areas, winning the Defender and Hustler of the Game awards against Houston Baptist after logging nine rebounds, two blocks and a steal.

But he needs to start hitting shots. Any shot. From 2 or from 3.

He is 4-for-17 from the field this season if you include the pair of exhibitions, and this team is not gifted enough to survive if someone is playing 20 minutes and contributing virtually zero on offense.

Even if Smith shot his career average from 3 — 34 percent — he would be a useful player, especially if he continues to rebound and play solid defense.

“I will be fine,” he assured Friday. “(My) shots are going to be fine, I just have to regain my confidence on the floor. I’ve been shooting it well in practice so I feel it it coming.”

Little by little

This team is a major work in progress, breaking in an entirely new starting lineup, so growing pains are expected.

But this is the penultimate game before the Wildcats head to Maui, so you want to see them be more cohesive on both ends of the ball and make strides in areas they have struggled in, like defensive rebounding and turnovers.

We saw just how much better Arizona was in the second half than the first half against Houston Baptist, and perhaps that is a sign of things to come.

“Every time we play a game, every time we learn from a game … players get more comfortable,” Miller said. “Even upperclassmen. I don’t know if any coach, right now, has everything completely worked out.”

Jeter ramping it up

Chase Jeter is still working his way back from an undisclosed injury, boosting his minute total from 17 in his debut against Chaminade to 20 against Houston Baptist.

The UA center has been great on the glass, grabbing 16 rebounds in those 37 minutes, but has not looked comfortable on offense, scoring 12 points.

However, he was significantly better against HBU (4-5 FG) than Chaminade (0-1 FG), which makes sense since he had not played in a college game since January of 2017.

“The best is yet to come. I don’t think he’s scratched the surface. He hasn’t played a lot of basketball in college, and even this year he was really playing his best for a two, three-week period and then he got injured,” Miller said. “I think right now the injury is finally leaving him, and we’re all anxious for him to experience a good stretch of health, because one thing Jeter has done at every level he’s played is rebound.”

B-Will’s bounceback

Brandon Williams was stellar during exhibition season, but had a small setback against Houston Baptist, shooting 2-of-11 from the field. He did make 8 of 9 free throws and post a 5:0 assist-to-turnover ratio, though.

And Williams was excellent as a scorer in exhibition season, so there probably isn’t much to worry about.

Everyone has off nights. Brandon Randolph, who has been on fire so far, is due for one eventually, too.

Doutrive’s minutes

Devonaire Doutrive has quickly become the player that everyone thinks should get more minutes, but it seems he has some work to do to find his way into the nine-man rotation, namely on defense.

In case you missed it, here is what Miller said about the 6-foot-5 freshman after he scored five points in seven minutes against Houston Baptist:

“Physically, he’s like a young colt. He’s so young, his body, how much he weighs, how strong he is, the best is yet to come for him. You can almost see that.

“What we’re trying to do right now is get him better on defense and really try to get him to think about what role he can have. It’s too early to say this player is going to play or another guy’s not. He’s one of those guys we’re closely watching and I can certainly see him cracking the rotation and helping us because he can do a lot of different things.”