After a scare versus Santa Clara Thursday evening, the Wildcats match up against a much tougher opponent tonight. Progressing to the championship game of the DirecTV Wooden Legacy will mean beating the Providence Friars, who are coming off a 10-point victory over Evansville.
Providence will be the most well balanced opponent Arizona has faced so far this season. A team that loves to get after it on the defensive end, the Friars do a good job spreading the ball around offensively. Coach Ed Cooley, someone Sean Miller has a lot of experience with through the USA Men’s U-19 team (Cooley is one of Miller’s assistant coaches), has guided his team to the NCAA Tournament each of the last two seasons.
It all starts with Kris Dunn for Providence. A preseason AP All-American, Dunn is one of the best defensive players in the country. A junior guard, his season averages are about 18 points, 7 boards, 6 assists, and over 4 steals per game.
Ben Bentil, a 6’9 sophomore, is the Friars best big man, averaging 15 points and 8 boards per game. After surrendering 44 points to Jared Brownridge of Santa Clara Thursday night, keeping Dunn and Bentil in relative check will be a focal point Friday night.
From the Wildcats standpoint, Kaleb Tarczewski’s health is a major concern at this point. Neither of Zeus’ ankles are currently 100%, and the big man spent much of the last 10 minutes of Thursday night’s game icing his left ankle after coming down on it awkwardly. With the team not yet knowing the severity of the injury, expect to see a lot more of Dusan Ristic against a well-sized Providence team. With Zeus out, Chance Comanche would likely see his role and minutes increase.
Allonzo Trier had his first experience with Sean Miller’s “freshman doghouse” Thursday night, being benched after seemingly frustrating Miller with his defensive performance. Considering how important Trier is to this team and the type of commitment he has to the game, expect Trier to be right back in there tonight, bouncing back with a big performance.
Arizona will expect to shoot much better from three-point range, after a 3/22 performance Thursday night. A better shooting performance, fewer turnovers (17 vs Santa Clara), and getting to the free throw line will be paramount for the Cats against Providence. This relatively even matchup will likely be close with a few minutes to go. The Cats will look to continue to lean on Anderson and York in the waning moments to pull them through to a potential matchup with a top 5 Michigan State team Sunday night.