No. 10 Arizona and No. 14 Indiana, two powerhouse college basketball programs, will meet for the first time on Saturday in the Las Vegas Clash at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The focus will be on the big guys in the historic matchup.
Indiana (8-1) features 6-foot-9 Trayce Jackson-Davis, who is averaging 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. The fourth-year player, whose return to college made the Hoosiers the preseason favorite in the Big Ten, is coming off a triple-double — 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists — in a conference win over Nebraska on Wednesday.
Jackson-Davis paired up front with another veteran, fifth-year senior Race Thompson.
“This solidifies why I came back,” Jackson-Davis said after the 81-65 victory over the Cornhuskers. “I came back to do big things, not only individually, but team-wise. Our team has high aspirations. I want to play my hardest and play for my teammates.”
Arizona (7-1) is led by post players who can counter Jackson-Davis’ size, speed and athleticism. Azuolas Tubelis runs the court as well as any big man in the country, averaging 20.1 points and 8.3 rebounds. Seven-footer Oumar Ballo is a load down low and is shooting 76.9 percent to help him average 19.1 points. He pulls down 9.3 rebounds per game.
However, the Wildcats, while boasting of wins over San Diego State and Creighton, haven’t seen the kind of size, skill and experience that Indiana’s frontcourt presents.
“You want to build a schedule that helps develop your team,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “Part of developing your team is building confidence and challenging your team. That’s why you want to play in matchups like this.”
Both teams took their lone defeats last week. Arizona, the national leader in field-goal percentage (.552), lacked energy and had a poor shooting night from long distance in an 81-66 loss at Utah on Dec. 1. Indiana wasn’t as tough as Rutgers in a grinding 63-48 road loss on Dec. 3.
The Wildcats responded with an 81-68 win over winless Cal on Sunday, but that game was closer than expected due to more shooting woes. Arizona is 8 of 48 (16.7 percent) from 3-point range in the past two games.
Arizona’s Kerr Kriisa has missed all nine of his attempts from behind the arc in that span, although the junior is still at 40.9 percent for the season and pocketed his second career triple-double with 14 points, 12 assists and 11 boards against Southern on Nov. 11.
While eyes are on the frontcourt, the point guard battle between Kriisa and Xavier Johnson could be pivotal. Johnson’s scoring average (10.9) ranks second on the Hoosiers. Indiana also could use Jalen Hood-Schifino’s offense. The five-star freshman scored 14 against North Carolina on Nov. 30 but has missed the past two games due to a back injury.
While this is the first matchup between the programs, scheduling matchups were considered several years ago when brothers Sean Miller (Arizona) and Archie Miller (Indiana) were the coaches. Nothing ever got finalized, however, and both teams now have second-year coaches — Lloyd and Mike Woodson.
“It’s a great opportunity for both (teams) and both our fan bases,” Lloyd said. “I’m sure it’s going to be electric come Saturday.”
–Field Level Media