Wildcats basketball gets first taste of the road
As the saying goes, home is where the heart is — or in the case of sports, home is where the heart shows.
The No. 9 Arizona men’s basketball team has defeated four of its regular season opponents by a combined score of 341-246 including Wednesday night’s 43-point victory margin over NAU, improving its record to 4-0, but every contest has been played in the friendly confines of McKale Center.
Saturday’s game at 7 p.m. against Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, broadcasted on ESPNU, is not only a regular season game, but also the first road match for a young team that starts two freshmen.
Luckily for the Wildcats, their summer exhibition tour in the Bahamas at least prepared them for the challenges of playing on the road.
Larry Hogan / Arizona Daily Wildcat Arizona vs Long Beach State
“One of the many things we’ve gotten out of this summer is that we’ve had the opportunity to travel as a team,” coach Sean Miller said. “It’s not the first time that we’re doing that.”
There was one drawback, however, to the Bahamas trip. Not only was the competition not as strong as the opponents the Wildcats will continue to face in the regular season, but the environment in which Arizona played was not comparable to a hostile crowd at a regular away game.
“That’s nowhere near playing away at a hostile arena once the regular season begins,” Miller said. “To play someone on the road on their true home court, to me that’s meaningful. To go play at Clemson [Dec. 8], at Texas Tech, those are going to be two hard-fought games and you develop character.”
Arizona’s approaching road dates come at a time when neutral site games and non-conference tournaments are “hot topics” in college basketball, according to Miller.
In playing two road games before the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, a tournament the Wildcats will compete in during Christmas break, Miller said he hopes to establish confidence playing on the road, in preparation for the conference slate.
“When you’re on the road, you want to be ready, knowing how hard it is to win on the road,” Miller said.
Texas Tech has yet to play on the road and has scored more than 80 points in each of its four games, winning all of them. But, the Wildcats are far and away the best team the Red Raiders will have faced.
“I’m excited,” freshman forward Brandon Ashley said. “Just trying to get this first win on the road and have a good game.”
Texas Tech has four players that average double-digit points, led by Jaye Crockett with 16.0 points per game, so Arizona will be challenged defensively against the highest level of competition it has faced.
But Wildcat players said they are looking forward to the feeling that accompanies winning on an opponent’s home court.
“Last year, when we won on the road, it was the most exciting feeling of the season,” sophomore guard Nick Johnson said. “We have our young guys, their first road trip, but we have a lot of veterans.”
Because of the transfer of senior point guard Mark Lyons, as well as the additions of redshirt players Matt Korcheck and T.J. McConnell, the Wildcats have experienced members who have played on the road.
“It’s time,” Miller said. “Five of our non-conference games are away from McKale, and we’ll take a lot of pride in those five games. It will prepare us for conference play certainly. We’ve had some great moments over the last couple years on the road. We’ll rely a lot on Saturday from our veterans on their play and talk and leadership.”