Men’s basketball prepares for former top-25 team against the Wildcats
The NAU men’s basketball team will travel to Tucson this weekend to face the University of Arizona for the sixth straight season. The Wildcats (5-2) have bested the Lumberjacks (2-5) 27 consecutive times, a streak that began in January of 1970 and nearly came to an end last season as the game was tied with under a minute to go, but UA rallied to a 5-point come-from-behind win. The Wildcats hold an all-time record of 93–27 against the Lumberjacks, whose last win against Arizona was a 76–73 victory in 1968.
The Jacks will likely face their toughest test of the season, as the Wildcats were ranked No. 16 overall to start the season, but have since slipped out of the top 25.
Statistically, the two teams appear to be evenly matched. The Wildcats average 70.1 points per game (ppg) and shoot 42.5 percent compared to 67.1 ppg and 42.1 percent for the Jacks. UA holds a slight edge of rebounds per game, averaging 37.4, compared to NAU’s 36.4.
Even though it is a non-conference game, the in-state rivalry gets the players a little more fired up than normal.
“Oh yeah, it’s always exciting,” said NAU freshman guard James Douglas. “A Pac-12 team, on TV all the time. It’s exciting. It’s a challenge we want to step up to.”
For the second game in a row, the Jacks will face a team in last season’s NCAA March Madness tournament. Earlier this week NAU faced Brigham Young University (BYU), a team that reached the Sweet 16 in 2011.Even though the Jacks lost to BYU 87–52, head coach Mike Adras thinks the team is taking steps in the right direction.
“There were a lot of positive things that came from last night (Nov. 30),” said Adras. “I felt like we took a step in the right direction. Now, I want to take another step on Saturday night, but I was pleased with what occurred.”
There are a number of things the Jacks must do well in order to come away with a win on Saturday, but perhaps most importantly, getting back to the basics and taking care of the ball. The Jacks are averaging just under 17 turnovers per game, and lost the ball 24 times against the Cougars.
“The main thing is to execute our offense,” said NAU junior guard Stallon Saldivar. “Not a lot of teams can defend what we run. We really just need to execute our offense and not turn the ball over.”
Taking care of the ball goes hand in hand with controlling the tempo of the game, which is what Adras feels will be most important.
“How well we can control the tempo of the game (is key),” said Adras. “If we let them get up and down the court, it’s not going to be pretty. Last year we did a great job with that, which is why it went down to the final seconds. We had a much more experienced team last year.”
Even though the Jacks have six freshmen this year, three of which play significant minutes, Saldivar doesn’t think it will have too much of an effect as they travel to play in the hostile environment of the McKale Center.
“It’s just all about mental toughness,” said Saldivar. “You can’t let that stuff affect you. The fans will get on you, but you just have to focus on the task at hand. I think our guys will handle it well.”
Like Saldivar, Adras does not seem worried about his freshmen playing in a hostile environment.
“I hope they’re as excited as can be,” said Adras. “I hope that we’re energized and motivated and want to go toe-to-toe with those guys. I anticipate that happening.”