New-look Arizona seeks 2-0 start vs. Eastern Washington

NCAA Basketball

Arizona has been able to play only one of its first four scheduled games due to COVID-19 issues for opposing teams.

For its fifth scheduled game, the Wildcats had to find a replacement team.

Eastern Washington (0-1) stepped in earlier this week for Northern Colorado and will travel to take on Arizona (1-0) on Saturday in Tucson. The revamped Wildcats opened with a 74-55 victory over Grambling State on Nov. 27 but are still full of questions.

If advanced hype and the first game are any indications, the Wildcats’ two best players are transfers. Ex-Nevada big man Jordan Brown made 8 of 10 field- goal attempts and finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Former Georgetown guard James Akinjo poured in 19 points to go with three assists.

“I thought Jordan Brown was outstanding,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller, who is breaking in five new starters.

“I don’t really care who we play or where the game is played, if you can get 19 points and 15 rebounds, including 13 defensive rebounds in 32 minutes, that’s one heck of an effort. I commend Jordan because he’s one of our team’s hardest workers.”

Akinjo and Brown combined for 14 baskets. The rest of the team made 9 of 36 attempts from the field.

The Wildcats used only eight players in their opener, missing three players for non-COVID reasons. Two are still out, including freshman Kerr Kriisa (awaiting NCAA clearance), but Ira Lee is ready to add frontcourt depth after sitting out the opener due to a concussion.

Eastern Washington had two games postponed or canceled because of the pandemic but did squeeze in a 71-68 loss at Washington State last Saturday.

“This kind of last-minute scheduling is going to happen now with all that’s going on,” coach Shantay Legans told the Spokesman-Review. “This is going to be a good game. Arizona always has some of the better players in the country.”

Eastern Washington, the reigning Big Sky champion, was picked to win the league again in preseason coaches and media polls.

The Eagles, who led Washington State for more than 33 minutes before fading late, had just eight players available for that game but expect to be closer to full strength Saturday.

Big Sky preseason MVP Jacob Davison averaged 18.4 points per game last season. Kim Aiken Jr. averaged a league-best 9.7 rebounds last year.

The Groves brothers — Tanner and Jacob — came up big in the opener, combining for 33 points and 17 rebounds. Tanner, at 6-foot-9, will be key to holding off Arizona’s front line, which includes Brown and 7-1 center Christian Koloko.

“They are organized; they are efficient on offense,” Miller said of the Eagles. “You can tell them really believe in themselves. They were missing some key players against Washington State. It will be a big, big test.”

–Field Level Media

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