It’s been almost a decade since the Arizona Wildcats (3-0) have faced a ranked team during the non-conference season. That will come to an end on Sunday when they face the No. 22 Texas Longhorns (1-1) in Austin.
Arizona last played a non-Pac-12 Top-25 team on Nov. 26, 2010 when it traveled to Cancun, Mexico to play No. 8 Texas A&M. In what was their most successful season under former coach Naya Butts, the Wildcats lost to the Aggies by nine points. They are hoping for more this year.
Texas has certainly shown some vulnerabilities in the early going. The Longhorns opened the season ranked No. 15 in the country, but fell to the South Florida Bulls on the road in their first game.
They returned to Austin for an 84-53 victory over UT San Antonio, but they still had some issues in that game. One of those issues will be familiar to Arizona.
Like the Wildcats, the Longhorns are having difficulty hitting their outside shots. Not just a little difficulty, either. Texas is shooting 14.8 percent from the 3-point line in their opening two games. Against USF, they went 1-for-9 and followed that up with 5-for-24 against the Roadrunners of UTSA.
Arizona was hot from 3 in its exhibition game, hitting 15 of 33 shots. That touch hasn’t been as reliable since the regular season kicked off. While the Wildcats are shooting 33.3 percent from outside as a team, the inconsistency stood out in all three of their games.
In their opening game against North Dakota, Arizona ended the game with a 34.8 shooting percentage from beyond the arc. It looked better at the end than it did as the game was unfolding.
Without Helena Pueyo going 2-for-4 and Sam Thomas hitting all three of her long-range shots, they would have made 3 of 16 as a team. In the second quarter, they missed all five of their outside shots. As would emerge as a theme in later games, they got hot from outside in one quarter.
Against Santa Clara, that quarter was the the second. In the other 30 minutes, the Wildcats hit one of their eight 3s. Going 4-for-4 leading into the half still left them with a 28.6 percent success rate for the game.
On Tuesday, Arizona finally got their outside shooting to a respectable 36.8 percent. The caveat is that Chicago State has won just three games over the past three years, and the Wildcats still went 0-for-5 in the opening quarter. Shooting 67 percent in the second and 40 percent in the third helped erase that.
The good news was that Aari McDonald took only one outside shot after struggling from distance in the first two games. She hit 81.8 percent of her shots from the floor, but she didn’t force the long-range jumpers. She also made all six of her free throws, indicating that she was getting inside and getting fouled as she did last season.
That will be important against Texas, since McDonald is so vital to the team’s success. When discussing likely upsets this weekend, ESPN’s Graham Hays wrote, “The safer pick is probably Arizona at No. 22 Texas because Arizona’s Aari McDonald will be the best player on the court in Austin on Sunday.”
On the Longhorns’ end of the court, Charli Collier currently leads the team in scoring with 19.5 points per game. Joyner Holmes has been the most consistent player in the early going, though.
Collier’s average was helped by 28 points against UTSA, which ended last year ranked 302 in the RPI. Against USF, she had a more modest 11 points.
Holmes put up 15 points against the Bulls and 17 against the Roadrunners for an average of 16 ppg. Both players average a double-double with Collier accounting for 11.5 rebounds per game and Holmes grabbing 10.
Lashann Higgs joins Collier and Holmes as the three Longhorns with double-digit scoring averages early in the season. Higgs led the team with 17 against USF and followed up with 11 against UTSA.
As a team, Arizona leads Texas in almost every statistical category. The Wildcats shoot 46.3 percent overall and 33.3 percent from distance compared to 42.2 percent and 14.8 percent for the Longhorns. Their scoring average of 73.7 ppg also outpaces the 70.5 of the home team.
When it comes to setting up their teammates, the Wildcats have also had more success. Arizona averages 18.3 assists per game to 15.5 for Texas.
On defense, the Wildcats are only giving up 48 ppg to 58.5 for the Longhorns. Arizona averages 14.3 steals per game, while Texas is only taking the ball away 7 times per contest. The visitors from Tucson block 4.3 shots per game compared to 3.5 for the home team.
Where the Wildcats have a disadvantage is on the boards. Arizona is averaging 37 rpg despite playing teams that generally lack their interior size and depth. Their leading rebounders are Cate Reese with 7.0 rpg and Semaj Smith with 6.3 rpg. Texas is pulling down 45.5 rpg and has two players averaging double-digit boards.
The Wildcats have the numbers advantage, but how will that translate to going on the road to face a top-25 team? After receiving votes in each of the major polls going back to the preseason, a win could vault them into the top 25 for the first time since the 2004-05 season. Is Arizona ready to announce its return on a national stage?
How to watch
The game tips off at noon MST on Sunday, Nov. 17. It will be aired on the Longhorn Network. The radio call is on 1400 AM, and fans can follow along at Arizona Live Stats.