The Arizona players that are still around remember it. The coaching staff remembers it. All Arizona fans remember it. UNLV fans came pouring out onto the court, as has become the norm after rare occurrences when UA loses a road game, to celebrate UNLV’s four point victory over the Wildcats almost a year ago. That will be all the motivation Arizona needs Saturday night (7:30 pm local time, ESPN2) as they look for their 46th consecutive victory at McKale Center.
With the two players who carved up Arizona’s defense last year now moved on to the NBA (Christian Wood and Rashad Vaughn), UNLV is again led by a wing scorer in Patrick McCaw, averaging 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. Another key player for the Rebels is someone Arizona fans are very familiar with, freshman Stephen Zimmerman Jr. A player the Wildcats recruited for a long period of time, Zimmerman is averaging 10 points and 8 boards per game. More of a finesse player than a bruising big man, the Wildcats big men will look to attack Zimmerman offensively while being physical with him defensively, hoping to keep him out of the paint.
UNLV has three losses this season, with the average loss margin being 6 points in those losses (boosted by 10 point loss to ASU at home Wednesday night). They have also lost to UCLA and Wichita St this season. UNLV also matched up against and defeated Oregon earlier in the year. Although it is difficult to blow out such an athletic team, this game has the makings of one that means more to Arizona after how the matchup went last season.
The starting guard trio for UNLV of Patrick McCaw, Jerome Seagers, and Ike Nwanu will test the Wildcats defense, especially form three-point range. The Rebels team as a whole averages 20 three-point attempts per game (compared to about 17 per game for the Cats). Controlling the boards, contesting the expected many UNLV three-point attempts, and attacking the rim offensively will be crucial for Arizona in order to move to 11-1.
With Kadeem Allen showing just how tough he is recently, not missing any time due to a sprained ankle suffered versus Fresno St, look for him continue to set the pace for the Cats both offensively and perhaps more importantly, defensively. Averaging almost two steals per game, Allen is consistently matching up against the opponent’s top wing/guard, making life tough for them.
Continued performances from the ever more consistent Ryan Anderson and Allonzo Trier should help Arizona weather any scoring spurts from the Rebels. Should the game remain close in the second half, Gabe York will be relied upon to shoulder a greater load of the offense, something he has relished thus far this season.
UNLV is a talented, athletic team. Arizona is more talented, relatively more experienced, and better coached. Arizona will rely upon its newly found cohesiveness to pick up #46 as they continue to prepare for the upcoming Pac-12 schedule.