Time: 8 p.m., Tucson time
Location: Coors Events Center (11,064), Boulder, Colo.
Radio: IMG College/Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries/Matt Muehlebach)
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Ted Robinson/Dan Belluomini)
You remember Sabatino Chen? Until Cal’s Allen Crabbe came along, Chen was the most feared perimeter opponent to play at McKale Center this season. He was so much in rhythm on Jan. 3 that he banked in a three-pointer at the end of the regulation, but the shot was ruled to be a fraction of a second too late. Chen, a senior reserve transfer from Denver, had a career-high 15 points with career marks also in field goals made (six) and attempts (10) in Colorado’s 92-83 overtime loss. His two three-pointers remain a season-high, matched last Sunday in Colorado’s win at Oregon State. After making two threes at Arizona, Chen did not make another three-pointer until six games later at home against Stanford (a 1-of-2 performance). His 15-point outburst against the Wildcats is 25.8 percent of what he’s scored (58) points in 11 Pac-12 games.
This is how risky it is to play freshmen big men extensively within a team’s offensive structure: Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett are shooting only a combined 40.0 percent (64 of 160) in Pac-12 games. With most of them playing close to the basket, where higher-percentage shots occur, that number should be higher. That kind of shooting has also affected Arizona’s assist-to-turnover ratio in Pac-12 games. They have 132 turnovers and only 128 assists. The bigs at times are not converting off passes or they are turning the ball over themselves. Ashley and Tarczewski — the Wildcats’ starting power forward and center — have four assists with 31 turnovers. Tarczewski has not recorded an assist yet in 11 conference games and has 19 turnovers. Of course, Tarczewski is not expected to distribute the ball but no assists with almost two turnovers a game from a starter means one scoring valve is completely shut down. The more you look at the infrastructure of the Wildcats, the more you come away impressed with Sean Miller for how he has coached this team to a 20-3 record.
Colorado’s own Web site, CUBuffs.com, is writing about how much the Buffaloes are eagerly anticipating a rematch with Arizona after the Wildcats’ controversial overtime win at McKale Center last month. This is one part of the story, written by contributing editor B.G. Brooks: “A 41-day wait is done. The countdown is at 0, and zero hour is 8 p.m. Thursday at the Coors Events Center. Colorado vs. No. 9 Arizona. Call it a very significant Pac-12 Conference game, the Buffs’ rematch for redemption, or merely the next one on the schedule – but you’re safe to assume it’s gone a bit beyond that. Has it been difficult for the Buffs not to anticipate Arizona’s Valentine’s visit? ‘Without a doubt,’ sophomore guard Askia Booker said. His personal countdown began ‘right when that call was made at the end of regulation. It kind of got to us . . . I think it’s probably one of the reasons we lost in overtime. Just knowing how we took that loss in Arizona, we were thinking we can’t wait to meet up with them again. Now we know it’s right around the corner. We’ll be prepared.'”
Arizona starting point guard Mark Lyons has only three more assists than shooting guard Nick Johnson. Lyons has 70 assists and Johnson has 67. Historically, Arizona and most college programs have their point guard as their dominant leader in assists. This is another intriguing aspect of the 2012-13 Wildcats. Lyons is a shooting guard playing point guard out of necessity for the Wildcats following his transfer from Xavier. The Wildcats have been here before under Miller, with good results. In the Elite Eight 2010-11 season, Kyle Fogg led the Wildcats in assists with 99 while primary ball-handler Lamont “MoMo” Jones, who prided himself as a shooter and scorer, had 93. This is uncommon in a program that has featured Steve Kerr, Kenny Lofton, Matt Othick, Damon Stoudamire, Reggie Geary, Mike Bibby, Jason Gardner, Mustafa Shakur and Nic Wise. Stoudamire, who averaged 22.8 points a game while attempting 466 field goals as a senior in 1994-95, still managed to lead the Wildcats with 220 assists. Experienced frontcourt players such as Ray Owes, Joseph Blair and Ben Davis converted on many Stoudamire feeds, making 51.9 percent (400 of 771) of their field-goal attempts in 1994-95.
Arizona was out-rebounded only three times in its first 17 games. In the six games afterward, the Wildcats have already been out-rebounded three times. Now they must face the Pac-12’s leading rebounder Andre Roberson, who also ranks second nationally with 11.6 rebounds a game. Roberson also leads the conference in steals with 2.2 per game. That means Ashley and Solomon Hill have a tall order to fill in matching against Roberson. In his last five games, Roberson, a junior from San Antonio, is shooting 50 percent from the field, and averaging 10.8 points, 12 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. Roberson is leaving open the possibility of foregoing his senior season and entering the NBA draft. According to NBADraft.net, Roberson’s game resembles that of Matt Barnes of the Clippers. That site does not list Roberson in its 2013 mock draft. DraftExpress.com has him going in the second round, the 36th pick overall. Kyle Nelson of DraftExpress.com writes that Roberson’s biggest need of improvement is playing away from the basket because of his 6-7 frame. “Moving forward, Roberson must expand his perimeter game by developing better shooting mechanics, greatly improving his ball handling abilities, and becoming a more versatile scorer from mid-range,” Nelson writes. Roberson still has some work to do in that regard, shooting only 33.3 percent from three-point range (8 of 24) in Pac-12 games.
PAC-12 RPI ASSESSMENT
RPI based on CBSSports.com
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*-Wins vs. Top 50 teams
**-Losses vs. Top 100 teams or higher
SOS-Strength of schedule
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner