Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats vs. UTEP Miners: Three top storylines



The Don Haskins Center awaits tonight's game between No. 3 Arizona and UTEP

The Don Haskins Center awaits tonight’s game between No. 3 Arizona and UTEP

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Top three storylines for tonight’s game:

1. Highly-ranked teams rarely have true road games like this nowadays.

Sean Miller should be applauded for scheduling a game like tonight's at El Paso

Sean Miller should be applauded for scheduling a game like tonight’s at El Paso

No. 1 Kentucky does not go out of its state to play an unranked team in a true road game at the opposition’s facility. Neither does No. 2 Duke, which played Connecticut for the 10th time last night, all on a neutral court.

No. 7 Villanova played a “road” game at cross-town rival LaSalle on Dec. 3 in Philadelphia. That’s like Arizona playing at Pima College.

No. 8 Gonzaga, which should appreciate the underdog as a mid-major trying to be major, does not journey out to the great unknown this season during the non-conference portion of the schedule. No. 9 Texas is sticking to the big boys.

Half of the AP’s Top 10 teams are not taking a risk like Arizona is facing tonight at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso. When the game was scheduled in June, Sean Miller knew of the possibility of a trap against a dangerous team coached by veteran Tim Floyd.

Floyd, on the other hand, mentioned in the press release that Arizona “could very well be ranked number one in the country when we see them.”

Arizona (11-0) is not No. 1 but the third-ranked Wildcats are the highest rated team to visit the 37-year-old Don Haskins Center.

Floyd, knowing the landscape of college hoops today, is thankful for Arizona going out of its way (yes, it is to that extreme) to play in El Paso.

“We’re very appreciative of Arizona coming over here to play because they don’t have to do that right now, where they are,” Floyd said earlier this week.

2. The game will toughen Arizona as it prepares for the Pac-12 season.

If Arizona believes it grew up a lot playing Cal-Irvine earlier this season — the players mentioned that after the game before traveling to the Maui Invitational — tonight’s game should be like boot camp.

The Don Haskins Center will be sold out, more than 12,000 strong. Some Arizona fans will make the trip from Tucson, a 4-and-a-half-hour drive to El Paso (320 miles), but the vast majority will be supporting the Miners.

Officiating can come in to play in such conditions. Miller commented after the Oakland game Tuesday that UTEP will feed off its crowd, especially on defense, the way Arizona has used that to its advantage in McKale Center.

Tonight’s game will be a good test of how 6’6″ freshman Stanley Johnson plays in a hostile environment starting opposite Vince Hunter, a 6’8″ sophomore wing player who appears destined for a nice NBA career. Talk about growing up fast.


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NO. 3 ARIZONA (11-0) AT UTEP (6-3)
Tip Time: 9:07 p.m. MST
TV: FOX Sports 1 (Wes Durham/Dan Bonner)
Radio: Arizona IMG Sports Network (Brian Jeffries/Ryan Hansen)

Overall: Arizona leads, 60-30
In El Paso: Tied, 22-22
Current Streak: Arizona won 3
Last Meeting: Arizona won, 72-51, on Nov. 15, 2012
Sean Miller vs. UTEP: 1-0


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Present RPI ranking of Arizona’s non-conference opponents. Arizona is No. 13 with a strength of schedule rating of No. 130. UTEP has an RPI of No. 57.
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The game will also be a good evaluation of how senior point guard T.J. McConnell can become a calming-influence, yet outspoken, leader like Nick Johnson before him on the road.

Arizona is in the midst of playing four true road games in five games. The Wildcats travel to UNLV on Tuesday. They open Pac-12 play at McKale Center against ASU on Jan. 4 before venturing to the Oregon schools on Jan. 8 and 11.

Welcome to college basketball Johnson, Craig Victor, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic.

3. Controlling emotions, playing under control key for tonight.

UTEP’s players, to a man, sound excited about playing tonight’s game. In an El Paso Times article yesterday, they talked about how they appreciated the opportunity to play against a ranked team at home.

“It will be nice to have a sellout,” senior forward Cedrick Lang told the Times. “We love playing at home in front of El Paso. We’ve got to play great defense. But this is just a great opportunity for us and everybody is really excited.”

“This is a great opportunity for us to show everyone in the country we can play with any team,” senior guard-forward Julian Washburn said. “It feels good to be playing in front of a sellout crowd. This is my last year and this is something I’ve dreamed of.”

You get the message: UTEP will be pumped. How will that translate to erratic play at the start?

If Arizona allows the Miners to gain confidence in the first half, it could be a long, difficult night with unfavorable results. The Wildcats must take care of the ball from the start and play poised like a team that’s been to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 the last two years.

In the Wildcats’ favor is their ability to play under control with starting guards McConnell and Gabe York tallying 85 assists with only 27 turnovers. It will take efficient play and shooting with a decent percentage (the Wildcats are shooting 51.1 percent from the field).

The turnover and shooting stats are from either home or neutral games. This will be a different scene tonight. Arizona must carry over its efficiency to El Paso.

UTEP will be a team that would be tough to face in the Pac-12 this season with Hunter leading the way. The Miners also have size and length — 6’3″ York will start against 6’8″ Washburn on the perimeter. Matt Willms is a 7-foot center and power forward Lang is 6’10”.

Hunter, who averages a double-double (16.2 points and 10.1 rebounds), might be the best player Arizona faces all year.

Defense. Composure. Efficiency. Arizona needs those elements to defeat the upset-minded Miners.


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PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)

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[table “” not found /] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also has published articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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