Arizona (6-2) is looking for its third straight win, while Utah Valley (6-3) is on a five-game winning streak.
The Wolverines, who hail from Orem, Utah, are the No. 156 team in college basketball, per KenPom.
Last season, they finished 23-11, second in the WAC, and in KenPom’s Top 100. But they lost three of their top four scorers — including a guy named Brandon Randolph — and are expected to take a slight step back this season.
And here are some things to watch for when they take on the Wildcats in McKale Center:
Changing the game plan
The Wildcats faced a stringent press defense last game against UConn, and it made them a little turnover-happy in the second half as they got fatigued.
They won’t have to worry about that Thursday.
“UConn really pressures with a lot of quickness, Utah Valley doesn’t,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said Tuesday at his weekly press conference.
Utah Valley is one of the worst teams in college basketball at forcing turnovers, entering the matchup with the 320th (of 352) opponent turnover percentage.
Still, Miller noted that facing two vastly different styles in such a short amount of time — even if they both play man-to-man — presents a challenge in its own right.
Digging into their depth
Arizona shortened its rotation against UConn, with Alex Barcello only playing four minutes and Devonaire Doutrive not getting seeing the floor at all, likely because the Wildcats were locked in a close game against a quality opponent and Miller doesn’t fully trust them yet.
But KenPom projects Arizona will beat Utah Valley by double figures, so those two should see an uptick in playing time since it probably won’t be a tight game.
Both played extremely well last home game, and perhaps if they have another big night they can earn themselves some minutes in more critical games, like Sunday’s road test at Alabama.
Defending the 3
The best part of Arizona’s defense this year has been the way it has defended the 3. Opponents are only shooting 29 percent from distance against the Wildcats, the 41st-best mark in the country.
That means something will have to give against Utah Valley, which shoots 40.3 percent from 3, the 24th-best rate in college basketball.
“They really run a lot of movement on offense where the ball moves, they have hand-offs and cutting, and they can really cut you up on offense with the way they move the ball and the way they move themselves,” Miller said. “So that’s going to be a challenge.”
UVU’s top scorers are cousins Jake and Conner Toolson. Conner is a 6-foot-4 senior and Jake is a 6-foot-5 redshirt junior.
Both are averaging roughly 15 points per game and shoot a blistering percentage from 3. Conner is 16 for 41 from distance (39%) and Jake is 12 for 21 (51%).
Jake is the nephew of Boston Celtics general manager and former NBA player Danny Ainge.
Arizona guard Brandon Randolph has been an extremely efficient scorer this season, averaging 17.3 points per game with a true-shooting percentage of 60.8. And yet there is still plenty of room for him to improve, namely at the 3-point line.
Randolph is just 10 for 35 (28.6%) from beyond the arc this season, currently stuck in a 1-for-10 skid.
The New York native was 9 for 25 (36%) before that, and if he can return to that rate, he would be one of the most efficient scorers in the country.
Randolph has been stellar at the free-throw line (92%) and the rim (76%) this year, flashing a more well-rounded game as a sophomore.
Same starting lineup?
Arizona has started Emmanuel Akot at power forward the last two games, sliding Ryan Luther to the bench.
It has worked out well so far, with both experiencing an uptick in production and, of course, Arizona getting two wins.
That said, Miller was non-committal when asked if he will keep the starting lineup intact, so it’s possible Luther will retake his spot, though that seems unlikely.
Utah Valley starts 6-foot-7 Isaiah White at power forward — a good matchup for the smaller, more athletic Akot — and you don’t fix what isn’t broken, right?