Arizona rose to the occasion in its last game, against Indiana in Las Vegas, and it has another big one coming up Saturday when No. 6 Tennessee comes to town.
But before the Wildcats get a chance to avenge last year’s first loss they must take care of another foe, one with far less name recognition.
Here’s what to watch for when Arizona hosts Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Tuesday night at McKale Center:
A milestone to be made
Arizona’s fans traditionally stand until the opposing team scores its first basket, and there’s a very good chance they won’t sit down before giving a standing ovation to Azuolas Tubelis, who is one basket shy of becoming the 53rd player in school history with 1,000 career points.
The junior forward, who is averaging 20.2 points per game this season, would become the UA’s first 1,000-point club member since Dusan Ristic in Jan. 2018. He did it in his 128th game, while Tubelis will be playing his 72nd contest.
Allonzo Trier, who also got to 1,000 career points in the 2017-18 season, hit that milestone in his 59th game and went on to finish with 1,307 points, which ranks 27th all-time.
If Tubelis continues to average 20 per game, and Arizona plays at least 36 games like it did a year ago, he would crack the 1,500-point club. The last Wildcat to do that was Chase Budinger from 2006-09.
More bench betterment
Arizona’s bench scoring, or lack thereof, has been a recurring storyline early in this season. The reserves combined for 17 points against Indiana, upping the average to 16.1 per game, but it was how sophomore Adama Bal and freshman Henri Veesaar scored that mattered most.
Bal drained three 3-pointers, two in the second half, after missing all seven over the previous six games. Veesaar made all three free throws after getting fouled on a 3, finishing with five points along with three rebounds, two assists, a block and a whopping plus-22 game rating.
“People before the season were talking that we don’t have depth,” Kerr Kriisa said afterward. “But I think today our young guys really showed their character, and nobody pissed their pants, so that’s a win.”
Coach Tommy Lloyd said he spoke last week with all five of his young reserves, including freshmen Kylan Boswell, Filip Borovicanin and Dylan Anderson, and basically told them to stop pouting about their struggles.
“I know what they’re going through,” Lloyd said. “So to see those guys step up … it’s really encouraging. It’s a huge thing for this team because, if we get those guys settled into their roles and contributing, and then the nights where you play like Adama it really, really lifts our group.”
With KenPom.com projecting Arizona to win 93-70, the bench should get plenty of chances to contribute.
Islanders in the desert
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi may have the coolest campus locale in Division I, sitting right along a bay and within shouting distance of the Gulf of Mexico. On the court, the Islanders are coming off one of their best seasons in school history when they won 23 games and reached the NCAA Tournament’s First Four.
Picked to win the Southland Conference regular-season title, A&M-CC is 5-4 this season but two of those wins are against Division II opponents. The only top-200 KenPom team it has faced was Mississippi State, in the season opener, a 63-44 loss.
Senior forward Isaac Mushila is averaging a double-double, at 15.9 points and 11.2 rebounds on 59.8 percent shooting, but he’s only 6-foot-5. No regulars are taller than 6-8, making the Islanders the second-smallest team in the country per KenPom.
In other words, Tubelis and Oumar Ballo should eat early and often, with Veesaar and Anderson also likely to get a lot of good looks in the paint.