Arizona Basketball

Pair of December home games help boost Arizona’s non-conference schedule

A couple of big non-conference games are coming to McKale Center. (Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics)

The Arizona Wildcats non-conference basketball schedule was officially released Friday morning, with games against Alabama and UConn highlighting the home schedule.

With Sean Miller’s club being a potential No. 1 team, the fun at McKale Center will begin with the Red-Blue Game on Oct. 20.

A home-and-home series against Alabama, which was recently agreed to, starts with a game on Saturday, Dec. 9 at McKale Center. That matchup, presumably, will feature the return of former Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne to Tucson.

Alabama coach Avery Johnson, in his third season, has that basketball program on the rise.

The Tide, getting some Top 25 mention in early preseason rankings, was 19-15 last season. Johnson returns six of his top seven scorers, and adds the nation’s seventh-ranked recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite. Guards Collin Sexton (No. 4 prospect) and John Petty (No. 30) lead the way among the newcomers, which also includes former Ohio State big man Daniel Giddens, who had to sit out last season.

UConn comes into McKale on Dec. 21 to wrap up Arizona’s pre-Christmas schedule. The Huskies were only 16-17 last season but they have a brand-name program that has won four national championships (1999, 2004, 2011, 2014) since Arizona won its sole national title in 1997.

There are plenty other goodies on UA’s early schedule, including the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas over the Thanksgiving holiday (Nov. 22-24). The other teams in the field are Villanova, Purdue, North Carolina State, Tennessee, SMU, Western Kentucky and Northern Iowa.

A game at UNLV on Dec. 2 kicks off a challenging month. The Cats move to a game against Texas A&M at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix on Dec. 5 before returning home against Alabama.

The game at New Mexico on Dec. 16 — with new coach Paul Weir — isn’t one of the most challenging on paper, but it has historical intrigue. This will be the first time the geographic rivals have played the Lobos in Albuquerque since Jan. 16, 1999.

On that day, Arizona led 78-77 with 4.6 seconds left, with New Mexico inbounding the ball from underneath its own basket. Point guard John Robinson II took the initial pass, dribbled through some traffic and then delivered a pass from near the top of the key to Damion Walker, down low. His layup, barely over Arizona’s Michael Wright, went in for the game-winning points.

Arizona coach Lute Olson was furious and insistent that the scoreboard timer started the clock late, allowing the Lobos enough time to beat the buzzer. Olson vowed to never schedule New Mexico again. He didn’t.

Arizona didn’t, either, for a while after Olson’s retirement. A home-and-home series was renewed for last season, with the Wildcats winning easily, 77-46 at McKale Center.

Here is Arizona’s non-conference schedule (the Pac-12 schedule, which will begin the week after Christmas has yet to be released):

Day Date Opponent Location
Friday Oct. 20 Red-Blue Game Tucson
Wednesday Nov. 1 Eastern New Mexico (Exhibition) Tucson
Sunday Nov. 5 Chico State (Exhibition) Tucson
Friday Nov. 10 Northern Arizona Tucson
Sunday Nov. 12 UMBC Tucson
Thursday Nov. 16 Cal State Bakersfield Tucson
Battle 4 Atlantis Nov. 22-24 TBA Paradise Island, Bahamas
Wednesday Nov. 29 Long Beach State Tucson
Saturday Dec. 2 UNLV Las Vegas
Tuesday Dec. 5 Texas A&M Phoenix
Saturday Dec. 9 Alabama Tucson
Saturday Dec. 16 New Mexico Albuquerque
Monday Dec. 18 North Dakota State Tucson
Thursday Dec. 21 UConn Tucson
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