The No. 15 Arizona Wildcats (9-1) will look to get back to winning ways Wednesday when they host the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (5-6) at 6 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Network.
It is UA’s first home game since Nov. 24 and a prelude to Saturday’s highly-anticipated game against the No. 6 Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Here are some things to watch for.
Still a man down
The Wildcats will be without reserve forward Stone Gettings for the third straight game as he recovers from a facial fracture and concussion.
Arizona coach Sean Miller said Gettings is in the final stages of concussion protocol but doesn’t know when he will be cleared to play. It sounds like it won’t be until after the Gonzaga game.
“I think that once we get through this week, then he might be cleared to resume activities,” Miller said. “He’s gonna have to play with a mask because he suffered a facial fracture. And from what I’m being told, the next couple of weeks he should get some great healing there. You go big picture, once he gets through the holiday season and our non-conference season is over, I think at that point he’ll really return back to form. It’s just we’re kind of in that unknown area of when he’ll be able to come back. He’s certainly not going to play on Wednesday.”
With Gettings out, expect Ira Lee and Christian Koloko to keep getting more minutes. While each bring their own skills to the table—for Lee it’s rebounding and for Koloko it’s shot-blocking—neither can replace Gettings 3-point shooting.
“We wish we had him,” Miller said. “He gives us depth, he gives us another scoring punch.”
Back at full strength
Freshmen Nico Mannion (hip and ankle) and Josh Green (illness) returned to practice this week without limitations. Both were noticeably limited against Baylor, when they combined for 27 points, five assists and six turnovers on 23 shots.
They did not practice in the days leading up to that game, contributing to Arizona’s lack of cohesion on offense.
Smarter on offense
One of Miller’s takeaways from the Baylor game is that Arizona did not play a smart game offensively. There were too many quick, lazy shots. It was one of the few times the Wildcats’ propensity to play fast came back to haunt them.
“We for most of the first half played with three less passes on possessions,” Miller said. “Ball didn’t change sides of the court many times. Early on, Baylor benefited by post trapping us. That’s something that we’ve handled well up until that game, and and we got shook up a little bit, ball didn’t go in, and we just never could generate any offense in that game. The numbers are actually astonishing.”
Yep. Arizona shot 26.9 percent. Miller is also focused on cutting back on turnovers. The Wildcats committed 16 against Baylor. Zeke Nnaji had five, partly because he was unprepared for the double teams Baylor threw at him when he caught the ball on the low block.
Miller took some of the blame for that.
“Baylor hadn’t shown that a whole lot,” he said. “We got away from working on that leading into that game, which is on the coach. And he had an early turnover. And you’re on the road with an early turnover, next thing you know, you have two turnovers. It can take your confidence a little bit and that happened. But we’ve gotten back to working on that. He’s agile, he’s a good passer. We know what we’re doing against the post trap, and I think he’ll be fine.
“The second phase of that is being able to get him the ball and use him more as a moving target, so that they can’t trap as easily. But I’ll go back to what I said at the beginning: when you’re when you’re not moving the ball side to side, you’re not having long possessions, and the ball’s getting in there with without moving the defense, those are the catches that are much easier to double team. The ones that are more difficult to double team is when you move the defense first, you move him, then you throw it in, then it takes a little longer for the trap to happen. Sometimes they don’t get there as quickly. And the other part of it is it’s not easy to trap us because we have a lot of other guys that can score. In that game, we couldn’t make shots. So I don’t think we’re as concerned about that based on the first 10 games.”
Omaha has had a crazy schedule so far. The Mavericks have played road games at Wichita State, Colorado State, Dayton, Washington State, Saint Mary’s, Arkansas State and NAU (in Prescott, not Flagstaff.)
They lost all of them except the game at Wazzu, pulling off an impressive 85-77 win over the Cougars. They also led Saint Mary’s at the half.
It’s why Omaha’s 5-6 record is a little deceiving. The Mavericks are the No. 161 team in the country, per KenPom, ranking higher than teams like UNLV and Cal.
Their strength is on offense where they are shooting 46 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3, and 69 percent from the free-throw line.
“They shoot the 3-point shot at a high percentage, but it’s very deceiving because they score from the 2 about as much as any team we’ve played so far,” Miller said. “When you look at their point distribution, they’re top-50 in 3-point percentage, but really how they score the most points per game is from two, not three. And they don’t score a lot from the foul line, either, so our big guys have to be ready to go.”
6-foot-8 forward Matt Pile is averaging a double-double (11.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg). Surrounding him are a trio of double-figure scorers who all shoot 40 percent or better from the 3-point line—KJ Robinson, JT Gibson, and Ayo Akinwole.
“They’re a good team,” Miller said. “The reason we elected to play Omaha is they’re one of the best teams in the Summit. they have a chance to win their conference tournament. Once they get through the holiday season and their schedule settles down, they return a couple of all conference players and I think that’ll play itself out as they get into conference play.”