The last time Arizona hit the road, it was supposed to be for the first of four consecutive games away from McKale Center. Instead, the Wildcats haven’t been away from home in nearly a month due to multiple COVID-related postponements.
But now it’s back to being road warriors, with Arizona’s next three games (over a 6-day span) being played on opponents’ home courts. The first of those is Thursday night at Stanford, where the third-ranked Wildcats (14-1, 4-0 Pac-12) will be experience a bit of 2020-21 season deja vu as there will be no fans in attendance at Maples Pavilion.
Here’s what to watch for when Arizona, which according to DraftKings Sportsbookis a 9-point favorite, and the Cardinal (10-5, 3-2) meet up:
No crowd, no problem
Stanford, UCLA and USC currently aren’t allowing fans at their games, though UCLA’s restriction is set to expire Saturday, making it very likely Arizona’s rescheduled game Tuesday at Pauley Pavilion will include a packed house.
For Thursday, though, the stands will be empty, making for an atmosphere very similar to what the UA faced all last season. That should make the experience pretty relatable for most of the Wildcats.
“To be honest, I’m pretty used to it from last year so it won’t really be a problem,” wing Bennedict Mathurin said. “If there are fans or no fans, it’ll be the same mentality for our team.”
UA coach Tommy Lloyd echoes that last sentiment, noting that nothing else about the game is different.
“There’s going to be no fans, big deal; go play basketball,” Lloyd said. “The dimensions of the court are still there, let’s hope the refs show up and throw it up. It’s not like we’re gonna be playing the game in a vacuum, it’s gonna be on TV, so people are gonna be watching.”
Road teams went 2-3 in Pac-12 games without fans last week, with UCLA and USC both falling at home to Oregon while Stanford knocked off then-unbeaten USC in an empty Maples.
“I don’t know how it could be an added challenge for the road team,” Lloyd said. “Usually from my experience, the home team usually has the most fans. We’re gonna go in there focused and play basketball. We’re gonna go in there and it’s gonna be a bunker mentality for Arizona basketball.”
Who turns it over more?
Arizona scored on 39 of its 74 possessions in Saturday’s win over Utah, after scoring on 35 of 72 possessions against Colorado two nights earlier. They also turned it over 16 times apiece, meaning the Wildcats got points 65 percent of the time when it doesn’t actually give the ball away.
The turnover problem has popped up throughout the season for Arizona, but it’s been most prevalent the last four games—Lloyd made sure to point that out Tuesday when a reporter mentioned the previous three games—when the Wildcats have had turnover rates over 20 percent each time.
The UA is second-worst in the Pac-12 in turnover rate, at 21.7 percent. The worst? That would be Stanford, at 24.5 percent, including 31.7 percent of possessions in its lost last weekend at Washington (which forced a turnover on 27.2 percent of possessions against Arizona). The Cardinal have given it way over 30 percent four times.
With both teams being so prone to turnovers, the key to the game may be which team makes the most with those miscues.
Arizona’s 32 turnovers against Colorado and Washington resulted in 41 points for the Buffaloes and Huskies, or 34.5 percent of their combined scoring.
The return of Road Benn?
Arizona is 3-1 in true road games, beating Illinois and Oregon State and losing by four to Tennessee just before Christmas. The Wildcats are 5-1 outside of Tucson when you include the wins over Wichita State and Michigan in Las Vegas.
Non-home games have been a boon for Mathurin, who is scoring 18 points per game overall but 25.6 per game outside of McKale.
It’s not just this season in which Mathurin has seemed to save his best for the road. His career high of 31 came last season at Oregon State and his top four scoring games (and eight of the top 10).
Mathurin can’t explain why he scores more on the road than in Tucson, and Lloyd isn’t going to question it.
“I don’t know if it’s maybe something individually, he likes playing on the road,” Lloyd said. “There are guys like that. He and I’ve never had that conversation. But if your better players are playing better games on the road, it’s usually helpful.”
According to KenPom.com, Arizona has the highest average height of any Division I team, at 79.4 inches. Not far behind is Stanford, at 79.0 inches.
The Cardinal don’t play anyone taller than 6-foot-10 Lukas Kisunas but six rotation players are at least 6-8 and a seventh is 6-7.
“They got really good size across the board,” Lloyd said. “They have some versatile bigger wings. Hybrid fours, I guess you could call them, and they do a good job of utilizing those guys. Once you get on the court live, you get a very different feel for how big people actually are. So I’m not going to make too big of a deal out of it.”
Stanford’s length hasn’t produced many blocks (only 2.9 per game, compared to 6.6 for Arizona) but it has worked on the boards. The Cardinal rank 13th in offensive rebound defense, allowing only 22.4 percent of opponent misses to be grabbed.