Arizona (12-4, 6-4 Pac-12) will be trying to avoid a second home sweep in Pac-12 play, while Cal (7-11, 2-9) comes to Tucson on a 3-game losing streak after falling at ASU on Thursday.
Here’s what to keep an eye out for during this afternoon tilt from McKale Center, which will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.
No rest for the weary
This will be Arizona’s fourth Pac-12 game in a 10-day span, the byproduct of the league moving the second ASU matchup (previously scheduled for March 6) to this past Monday in order to free up the final week of the regular season for makeups. All four games will have been in Arizona, including the final three at McKale, but even without the travel element it’s been a grind for the Wildcats.
“Playing four games in 10 days, you don’t have a lot of time between games to recuperate, to practice, to get those repetitions in,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said Thursday night. “We really need everybody to be good. We need everybody to be sharp, and we’ve got to be very good with details.”
It doesn’t help that Arizona is banged up and shorthanded. Jemarl Baker Jr. is out for the year with a broken wrist, while both Bennedict Mathurin and Jordan Brown are playing through ankle injuries.
Thankfully, a reinforcement is on the way. Miller said earlier this week that freshman point guard Kerr Kriisa will be available to make his debut Thursday at Utah, providing the Wildcats with some much-needed backcourt depth.
Primary ballhandlers James Akinjo and Terrell Brown Jr. have played 213 of a possible 240 minutes over the previous three games, and against Stanford they combined for nine turnovers. Brown, who only had six turnovers in Arizona’s first 13 games, has eight in the past three.
Benn back in the lineup?
Prior to the Stanford game a report surfaced that Mathurin would only play in an emergency due to the right ankle sprain suffered a few days earlier. Then he entered the game after the first media timeout and played 26 minutes, more than in all but one of the previous times that he didn’t start.
The first half was a little rough for the freshman, as he missed his first two shots, but he had eight points, four rebounds and two assists in the second half despite not having practiced since the injury.
Assuming he continues to progress, Mathurin could be back in the starting lineup for Dalen Terry, who had 10 points on Thursday but seemed to have really embraced that reserve role
Cal has played more games than any other Pac-12 team, overall and in conference play, with almost no interruptions to its original schedule like so many others have faced. Yet because of injuries the Golden Bears have had 13 different starting lineups, none for more than two consecutive games.
The one they trotted out at ASU could be a keeper, though.
Junior guard Matt Bradley, who has missed eight games this year, had his first double-double of the season and is averaging 17.9 points per game. Junior power forward Andre Kelly, who is a formidable 6-foot-8 and 255 pounds, had 16 points and 13 rebounds against the Sun Devils and is shooting 60 percent for the season.
Cal isn’t particularly good in any statistical area, ranking second-to-last in the Pac-12 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, yet it tends to hang around. Its last three losses, including at home to the Los Angeles schools, have been by a combined 16 points.
Bounceback for Azuolas?
Thursday’s game was the worst of Azuolas Tubelis’ young career, with the 6-foot-10 freshman going 1 for 9 from the field for four points and four rebounds, both lows since he became a starter on Dec. 22. Much of that had to do with the way Stanford defended him, but learning to deal with adversity will be key to his development.
Tubelis shook off a poor first half at ASU on Jan. 21 to come up huge in the second half, both offensively and defensively, and he’s yet to have an extended run of poor play with Arizona. The Wildcats will probably try to get him going early in order for him to regain confidence.