The Arizona Wildcats will open their season against an unfamiliar opponent Friday night, the University of the Pacific. The last time these two schools played each other was almost 40 years ago, when the Wildcats beat the Tigers at home by 18 (12/11/1976). Like most years the Wildcats enter this season with lofty goals, while the Pacific Tigers are predicted to be a middle of the pack team in the West Coast Conference with some sneaky upside potential.
The Tigers return their entire starting five from last year. The strength of this team will be their experienced backcourt, which they will rely upon Friday night as well as throughout their season. This is furthered by the fact that their two leading shot blockers from last year (who were also two of their top 4 rebounders), Eric Thompson and Sami Eleraky, will not play Friday night and may be out longer due to an NCAA investigation into alleged academic misconduct. Alec Kobre, a senior guard, is also being withheld from Friday’s game due to the investigation.
This experienced backcourt starts with TJ Wallace. A preseason all WCC selection, Wallace led the Tigers last year in points, rebounds, and assists per game. Along with Wallace, David Taylor will be a key cog of the Tiger offense Friday night. Both are junior players with plenty of experience.
Wallace loves to get into the lane and try to draw contact, looking to get to the free throw line. Look for Kadeem Allen to get his first real shot at guarding the opponent’s best player Friday night when he matches up against Wallace.
The Wildcats are going to have a significant height advantage against the Tigers. The tallest player on the court wearing black will be 6’9 (Jacob Lumpkin). Look for Tarczewski, Tollefsen, and Anderson to be very active on the offensive boards from the start.
Offensively, the Wildcats have a vast advantage in both talent and size over the Tigers. Look for the Wildcats to impose their will in the half court offense, being able to run their set plays and get the ball to Zeus and Anderson pretty much wherever they want. The Tigers have no active players on their roster who can keep Zeus, Anderson, or Ristic out of the paint near their basket.
Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Kadeem Allen, Gabe York, Allonzo Trier, Elliott Pitts and company will all find themselves tested against a defense that plays a lot of man-to-man. Against a team with a lack of size, the Wildcats backcourt will look to get into the paint. PJC and Trier should find themselves consistently able to drive into the lane, finding their own shot or collapsing the defense around them, generating an open shot for a teammate. If the Tigers drop off to help against the Wildcats significant frontcourt, players like York and Pitts should get plenty of open looks from three point range.
The Tigers have struggled in recent years against non-conference foes. Look for that to continue Friday night. The Tigers can be can be pesky and players like Wallace will try to keep the game close by getting to the free throw line early and often, but the Wildcats’ significant edge in size and talent will help them pull away.
Defensively, the Wildcats will focus on creating turnovers versus a team that isn’t especially adept at avoiding them. In a game that will serve as a good warmup for Arizona before they get into the meat of their non-conference schedule, the Wildcats will rely on dominating the boards and scoring at will inside, which will open up the three point line in the second half to help pull away.