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What to watch for when Arizona hosts California Baptist on Wednesday

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 07 Northern Arizona at Arizona

The Arizona Wildcats return to the court Wednesday when they host California Baptist at 5 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Network.

This is the first-ever meeting between these schools. This is only CBU’s third season as a Division I program after making the leap to the WAC from Division II.

So far the Lancers are 3-2 with wins over Southeastern Louisiana and two non-DI schools and losses to Southeastern Louisiana and USC.

Arizona (5-0), which received votes in the AP poll for the first time this week, is looking for its sixth straight win to begin the season. The first five victories came against mid-majors.

Here are some things to watch for Wednesday.

The final tune-up

This is Arizona’s final game before its Pac-12 opener Saturday vs. a tough Stanford team in Santa Cruz. That means it’s the last chance for the Wildcats to improve on some of the things they have struggled with this season—like turnovers, finishing around the basket, and shooting.

Well, that last one comes and goes. Arizona has made 90 percent of its free throws over the last two games after making only 65 percent over the first three.

It’s been the same at the 3-point line. Arizona went 12 for 40 in its first two games, 25 for 40 over its next two, and then 0 for 9 against UTEP—the first time the Wildcats went 3-less in a game since 2009.

A solid shooting night Wednesday could go a long way toward affirming that the Wildcats are not as bad as their worst nights indicate. A bad shooting night could signal that those hot shooting nights were flukes.

Lots of points, lots of 3s.

The Lancers enter Wednesday’s contest averaging 90.6 points per game, the 10th-best mark in the country. They like to push the pace and shoot lots of 3s.

CBU ranks 74th in the country in tempo and 12th in 3-point rate, with more than 50 percent of their shot attempts coming from behind the arc.

That is a similar profile as Eastern Washington, the team that almost took down the Wildcats in McKale Center a couple weeks ago by burying 10 triples, feasting off Arizona’s defensive miscommunication.

USC saw how dangerous CBU fan be, needing to come back from a five-point deficit with 1:59 left in an eventual overtime win.

“Cal Baptist is almost more dependent and shoots at a higher percentage (than EWU),” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “They have really four guys that shoot a high clip, a high percentage, and it’s quite a challenge for anybody that plays them. We obviously watched USC play them at the beginning of the season and Cal Baptist just made 23 point shots. So the fact that they made 23 point shots against USC and that game was an overtime win by USC, we respect them a great deal. I think their coach does an excellent job and we’re hard at work right now to get ready for that game.”

CBU gives up its fair share of points, too. The Lancers rank 326th in defensive efficiency. They are one of the worst rebounding teams in the country in part because they only start one player—Florida transfer Gorjok Gak—who stands at 6-foot-6 or taller.

The 6-foot-11 Gak is averaging 11.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks through five games. He was named to the WAC all-preseason team.

Jordan Brown and Arizona’s interior presence

With the style of play CBU employs, Arizona should be able to own a big edge in rebounding and points in the paint. That is, if they convert their shots around this basket this time. Miller thought that was a big area of concern against UTEP when the Wildcats missed five layups and a dunk.

Jordan Brown is trying to get back on track after a couple of quiet games in a row. The Nevada transfer has been inconsistent to begin his UA career, twice scoring 17 or more points but also being held to 8 points or less in the other three games.

Miller attributes that to Brown having a new role as a starter and not having a traditional offseason to help him adjust to it.

“He was unable to continue to gain I think some of the momentum that he really had going throughout the year to finish off that year in waiting,” Miller said. “But Jordan’s a really important player on our team, he’s very important player in our future. I think he’s got an incredibly bright future, but early on here as you see he’s had some really good games. He’s been up and down. He’s had some games maybe where things haven’t worked out as well. He’s learning what it feels like to play two positions in our game—playing the four with Christian (Koloko). We’re asking Jordan to guard sometimes a perimeter shooter on the other team, defend away from the basket. In that same game he guards the other team’s center. We always try to get him the ball in around the basket. He’s one of our best low post scorers and we do that in both positions, so he has a lot going on here early on through first five games. He’s a great example of the more games we play, the more sure of himself he’ll become, the more he’ll develop. I think the more he’ll settle in.”

An international affair

Like the Wildcats, the Lancers have a bunch of foreign players. Seven to be exact. That ties them with Arizona, Hawaii, Northeastern, Utah State, and Washington State for the third-most in the country.

CBU has players from Brazil, Puerto Rico, Australia, and Canada. Arizona has players from Lithuania, Estonia, France, Canada, Turkey and Cameroon.

Don’t call them Cal Baptist!

The program’s game notes says California Baptist University, California Baptist and CBU are the proper ways to reference the school.

Cal Baptist or Cal Bapt are NOT acceptable.