Arizona hits the road for the second time this season to battle the Clemson Tigers on Saturday. The Tigers are coming off a 64-55 victory at South Carolina. Clemson did lose its previous two battles against big time opponents, falling at home to Gonzaga and Purdue. The Tigers are 5-2 for the season.
Clemson plays a slow pace and will undoubtedly try to dictate tempo against Arizona. The Tigers have not scored 80 points in a game this season and have only broken 70 twice, despite playing a handful of cupcakes. Arizona and Clemson have one common opponent: UTEP. Interestingly, both schools won at home by the exact same 21-point margin.
The Tigers are led in scoring by K.J. McDaniels and Devin Booker, who both average 11.9 points. Booker, a 6-8 forward/center, also leads the team in rebounding with nearly eight per game. Clemson’s third leading scorer, Milton Jennings, has been suspended indefinitely due to marijuana possession charges. Losing Jennings has been a big blow to the Tigers.
The past two games Clemson has started Bernard Sullivan in place of Jennings. During that span, Sullivan has been incredibly unproductive. While playing 34 combined minutes, Jennings has managed to contribute zero points and zero rebounds. It appears the Tigers will need somebody else to step up, and that player could be guard Ron Hall. He had the hot hand against the rival Gamecocks, a game in which he scored 15 points in route to victory. Silver lining for Arizona:
The Wildcats had the game of all games to forget against Southern Miss earlier this week. Not only did they trail at home for most of the game before rallying, but they turned the ball over 27 times—the most in 13 years.
Finding a positive side to the victory may seem like mission impossible, but there were some bright spots. First of all, the very fact it was a victory speaks volumes to Arizona’s talent and size. When was the last time the Wildcats were good enough to turn the ball over 27 times against a decent team and still come out on top?
Second, despite playing on offense as if their hands were greased, Arizona put on a defensive clinic. In the second half the Wildcats only gave up 20 points and did not allow a 3-pointer. Those numbers are unbelievably impressive considering the penchant Arizona had for turning the ball over on offense. An average basketball team could be expected to score more than 20 points off so many second-half turnovers alone—but not against the Wildcats. Arizona’s defense played phenomenally against the Golden Eagles.
Third, Nick Johnson stepped up in a big way. He carried the team on his back during the latter part of the fist half into the early part of the second. He hit a huge three-pointer before the break and almost single handedly sparked Arizona’s comeback to begin the second half. Johnson finished with a career high 23 points. An otherwise golden performance was only tarnished by turnovers. Johnson committed six of them, including a couple of mind-bogglingly inaccurate passes. However, he redeemed himself with a game high four assists and four steals in addition to the 23 points.
Fourth, Kevin Parrom displayed the guts and toughness that have come to characterize him as a player. He shook off a cold-shooting first half to lead his team down the stretch. He finished with an impressive 14 points and eight rebounds. Of course, on a night when no Wildcat seemed capable of holding on to the ball, Parrom didn’t escape the turnover bug either with five. Prediction:
The Clemson game has all of the prototypical makings of a classic trap game. It’s on the road, against a quality opponent, directly before Arizona’s biggest match-up of the season against Florida. However, the Southern Miss game may have been the wakeup call Arizona needed. The Wildcats should now know better than to take any team lightly. Expect Arizona to come out with fire and extend their season opening unbeaten streak.