The Arizona Wildcats complete their regular season with one last opportunity for a blowout win, hosting the California Golden Bears on Saturday afternoon at McKale Center.
It will be Senior Day, and second-ranked UA (27-3, 17-2) would set the record for most wins in Pac-12 play with a victory. It would also get to cut down the nets to commemorate the conference title that was clinched on Tuesday at USC.
Here’s what to watch for in the Wildcats’ last go-around before the postseason begins:
Gramps’ last go-around
Justin Kier is the only senior on Arizona’s roster, so his will be a solo celebration honoring the sixth-year player who is at his third school. It will also be his third Senior Day, having gone through such a ceremony at George Mason in 2020 and Georgia last season.
“Definitely not something I thought would happen,” Kier said. “I just cherish these moments because I’ve had three teams to enjoy it with. And each group has been so special. So this one will hit a lot different for sure.”
Kier called transferring to Arizona “the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” and while doing so finally provides him a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament he said it goes far beyond that.
“I love this coaching staff,” he said. “Coach Lloyd has done so much for me, and I think our relationship is building every single day. Someone I genuinely can have a conversation with, I feel like just me and his personalities just click. He’s definitely someone that I’m glad I’ve met and I’m glad I’ve been able to be coached by, he’s taught me so much this year, on and off the court.”
Coach Tommy Lloyd, who said Kier will get the start, believes Kier has a future as a pro in Europe due to his speed and quickness, as well as ability to play both guard positions. Playing overseas will also mean moving around a lot, but Kier’s fondness for sightseeing should play right into that, even if for now it means being the butt of teammates’ jokes.
“They always make fun of me because I have my phone out all the time taking pictures and videos to send back home, because I’ve never been on the West Coast,” he said. “This is first time being in California, first time being in Arizona here. It’ll be my first time in Utah, Washington, Oregon, all that stuff. So these are just memories for me, man. It’s just been amazing places. Great scenery. And I like that stuff. I like taking pictures of seeing cool stuff.”
As a sixth-year senior, Kier is at least three years older than most of his teammates.
“I call him Gramps,” wing Pelle Larsson said.
A McKale sendoff for others?
Kier is the only Wildcat guaranteed to be playing his final game in Tucson, but this could also be the last home game for other UA players. Sophomore wing Bennedict Mathurin is regularly listed high on mock NBA Draft boards—he’s projected by NBC Sports to go No. 11 to the Washington Wizards, while NBADraftRoom.com has him going 10th to the Portland Trailblazers—and thus seems like a lock to be two-and-done, while junior center Christian Koloko and sophomore forward Azuolas Tubelis could also be headed for pro careers once this season is done.
Koloko is slotted in as the No. 30 pick by Tankathon and No. 43 by NBADraftRoom. Tubelis isn’t on any draft boards, but he could play his way onto them with a strong March, or he could opt to begin his pro career back in Europe (as could sophomore point guard Kerr Kriisa), though Lloyd’s Euro-friendly system is perfectly catered for their skill sets and another year in college could only help in the long run.
McKale got very quiet with a little less than four minutes left in Thursday’s 81-69 win over Stanford, when Dalen Terry took a hard fall to the court and stayed down for a while. He was eventually helped up and off the court, not putting much weight on his right leg as he was escorted to the locker room, but he jogged back to the bench before the game was over.
“He’ll be fine,” Lloyd said after the game, not elaborating on the nature of the injury.
With Arizona already locking up the Pac-12 title and Cal (12-18, 5-14) not exactly a juggernaut—it lost 71-44 at ASU on Thursday—this could be an opportunity to lighten the load for Terry heading into the Pac-12 Tournament. Same goes for Kriisa, who has played the last two games with KT tape on his left shoulder and has also had his left wrist and thumb taped numerous times this season.
“Bumps and bruises,” Lloyd said.
Don’t be surprised if freshman Adama Bal gets into the game early, as he did when Arizona won 96-71 at Cal on Jan. 23. He played a career-high nine minutes against the Bears, scoring a career-best five points, while fellow freshman Shane Nowell also had a career-high five points in that game.
Nowell hasn’t been available the last few games because of “some things that we wanted to address behind the scenes,” Lloyd said, but would be able to play against Cal.