A consistent theme has emerged through the first six games of Arizona’s season. The Wildcats get off to a slow start, let the opponent hang around, and then bury them in the second half.
Some games have been more dramatic than others but they’ve all followed the same pattern to an extent. They’ve also all ended in the same result: another victory to prolong Arizona’s streak of 33-consecutive regular-season non-conference wins, the longest such streak in the nation.
On Tuesday, No. 3 Arizona will hope to make things a little more comfortable by putting Gardner-Webb away early.
The Bulldogs, who compete in the Big South Conference, are 3-3 on the season and that includes an eye-catching victory vs. Clemson. However, all three of their losses have come by double digits.
As expected, this is a match-up that shouldn’t be close for long.
If ever there was a game where Kaleb Tarczewski could gain back some possible lost confidence, this would be it. The junior center struggled to find much rhythm in Maui facing the likes of Kansas State and SDSU but against Gardner-Webb, he’ll have a clear size advantage.
One of the shortest teams in the nation, the Bulldogs lack a contributor over 6’8. At 6’7, sophomore Tyrell Nelson is labeled as a center but he will have his hands full defending Tarczewski.
Of course, guarding Brandon Ashley or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson won’t be any easier. Then there’s reining Pac-12 Player of the Week Stanley Johnson, who brings a level of athleticism that Gardner-Webb has almost certainly never seen before.
Johnson was at his best when things mattered most in Maui. The freshman phenom came up with key plays on both sides of the ball and showed that when the game is on the line, he wants the ball in his hands.
Even if Arizona’s system doesn’t allow Johnson to put up the catchy numbers of other Player of the Year candidates, his value is just as vital.
Gardner-Webb’s best hope of staying competitive is to force Johnson and the Wildcats into discomfort on offense, while also playing a near perfect offensive game themselves.
To the Bulldogs’ credit, they’re a disciplined team and have their own big time scorer in the form of junior Jerome Hill. The 6’5 wing is coming off a career-high 32 points, albeit against a Division II school.
Facing Arizona, Gardner-Webb just doesn’t have enough size to provide a serious challenge.