Wildcats defend No. 1 spot against New Mexico State
The newly crowned No. 1 Arizona men’s basketball team will try to extend its record to a perfect 10-0 on the season and take the first step toward retaining the top ranking in the country for another week when it hosts New Mexico State tonight in McKale Center.
Arizona (9-0) enters play fresh off an exhilarating 63-58 victory over UNLV in the Wildcats’ annual white-out game last weekend, while NMSU (7-4) enters having lost its past three games to Colorado State, New Mexico and Gonzaga.
“I’m glad to be here and, certainly, it’s a great honor to be the coach at Arizona,” head coach Sean Miller said. “I feel like we’ve played a competitive schedule. For us to be 9-0 and where we’re at as a team, it’s where we all hoped we could be. Now it’s just a matter of us continuing to grow and improve and hopefully, from a health perspective, we can get a lot of goodwill on our side there, too.”
Despite being ranked at the top of the AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches’ polls for the first time in his coaching career, Miller and the Wildcats will have to avoid being complacent.
Ryan Revock / The Daily Wildcat UA sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski dunks the balls against UNLV on Saturday in the McKale Center.
“You can make the argument that if you look at New Mexico State’s numbers, they are a better team than UNLV,” Miller said. “I’m sure they’ll come in here ready to go on Wednesday. We’ll have to be ready.”
NMSU possesses a strong frontcourt lineup that features 7-foot-5, 355-pound center, Sim Bhullar. A sophomore, Bhullar has enjoyed tremendous success in his college career and as a freshman, he averaged 10.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game en route to being honored as a WAC Freshman of the Year and broke NMSU’s single-season record for blocked shots with 85.
This season, he is averaging 7.2 rebounds and has added a total of 37 blocks. In contrast, Arizona Wildcats 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski leads the team with less than half Bhullar’s number of blocks (14).
“The scary part about them is they have a couple frontcourt players that are really physical and big in their own right,” Miller said. “We have to make sure we’re prepared for a guy that big.”
Miller noted that when you’re No. 1, you are going to get every team’s best shot.
Everyone wants to have the recognition of being the team who upset the top team in the nation, so Arizona won’t be able to let its guard down at all if it wants to remain on top for another week.
Miller stressed the fact that while it is nice to be recognized for such a momentous achievement, there is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of games left to be played.
“There is a lot of basketball in front of us,” Miller said. “It’s not like we’ve won a national championship or bowl game; what we’ve done is solidified our team as being good and we’re off to a good start.”
—Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17