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Arizona Wildcats will need to limit fouls defending Purdue’s Zach Edey

NCAA Basketball: Colgate at Arizona Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona men’s basketball’s physicality will be put to the test Saturday when it faces Purdue in Indianapolis in a heavyweight battle between the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the country.

Of all the factors someone could point to in Arizona’s favor entering the contest, the one that might carry the most importance is the Wildcats’ ability to defend at a high level while conceding few fouls.

Through eight games, Arizona ranks sixth in the nation in free throws allowed (13) and is 15th nationally in fouls per possession (19.9%).

Arizona manages to play within Tommy Lloyd’s defense without drawing excessive contact.

“Obviously, I love the physicality,” Lloyd said after Arizona’s win over Wisconsin. “It’s been one of the best groups I’ve ever been around at executing a game plan, and that’s been really cool. And that’s really cool as a coach, because you and your staff spend so much time scheming and how do you want to do certain things.”

Arizona’s ability to draw up a physical game while avoiding foul trouble will be essential when Purdue’s Zach Edey, the nation’s top player in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (10.6) according to KenPom.com.

The 7-foot-4 Edey goes to the line an average of 11.4 times per game. And he’s a more-than-capable free throw shooter, connecting on a career-best 75.9% from the line.

In Purdue’s 92-86 win over Alabama on Saturday, Edey drew whistle after whistle, forcing two Crimson Tide big men to foul out despite the duo playing just 29 minutes of combined time. Edey made all 11 of his free throw attempts, and Purdue went 24-28 from the stripe as a team.

Edey is also gifted at avoiding foul trouble. He’s picked up four fouls just twice this season – once against Tennessee in the Maui Invitational and the other in Purdue’s overtime loss at Northwestern.

The task of containing Edey will primarily fall on Arizona’s 7-footers, Oumar Ballo and Mo Krivas. The Wildcats will likely try to double team Edey at times with help from Keshad Johnson.

Ballo and Krivas did well in guarding Duke’s All-American big man Kyle Filipowski last month. Filipowski, who is more of a stretch center than Edey, went 10 for 20 while committing four fouls.

Though Filipowski kept Arizona honest from outside, he was ineffective at drawing contact from Arizona’s bigs. Filipowski drew five fouls in the game and made just two trips to the stripe, both in the first half.

The Blue Devils as a team went more than 18:30 of the second half without a free throw attempt, a remarkable drought in their home arena.

Whether Arizona can continue its success of defending without fouling will go a long ways in determine Saturday’s outcome.