Former Arizona head coach Lute Olson vowed to never play New Mexico again after the Wildcats lost to the Lobos back in 1999 after the game clock may have started a fraction late and allowed New Mexico to earn the victory.
With the layoff being nearing two decades we reached out to Jason Bartel of Arizona Desert Swarm to find out what the Wildcats have been up to this year.
1. Former Arizona head coach Lute Olson vowed to never play New Mexico again after the 1999 contest where there was issue over the clock at the end of the game. Looking through announcements of this series last year nothing states to why these two scheduled a home-and-home. Any particular reason as to why?
Jason Bartel: I think the main reason is that Sean Miller, Greg Byrne, and all of Arizona Athletics realizes that it needs to play the more prestigious western programs each year. Arizona plays Gonzaga just about every year now, and this year's top Mountain West program is New Mexico after a couple years of UNLV and a couple years of San Diego State. While UNM isn't exactly at the level it once was, it's important for Arizona to play these schools in non-conference.
2. Parker Jackson-Cartwright saw increased playing time this year but he is out with a nasty ankle sprain, how much has his absence impacted Arizona?
Jason Bartel: It's been enormous. Not only does it leave Arizona with just seven available scholarship players, but only three of those are guards, and none of them are true point guards. This team has had major issues turning the ball over since PJC went down, and for a while, no one has been able to get Lauri Markkanen the ball. Things seem to be getting better (see the first 35 minutes of Saturday's Texas A&M game), but the offense runs nowhere near as well as it does with PJC at the helm.
3. New Mexico has a solid duo in Tim Williams and Elijah Bryant who score a combined 35 points per game, what does Arizona do defensively to slow down those two?
Jason Bartel: As far as Elijah Brown goes, it's probably a no-brainer that Arizona will have Kadeem Allen on him for the most part. Allen is the team's senior leader, and is the best defender out on the perimeter. You'll also see a little Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons on him probably.
With Williams, you could see Alkins, or more likely, Markkanen guarding him. Arizona very rarely runs a zone, so UNM will see a ton of man defense, and Markkanen probably makes the most sense on Williams, since Lauri is a very athletic seven-footer. Also, Dusan Ristic is not a great interior defender. However, when Keanu Pinder is in the game, he'll probably draw that assignment. Pinder's defensive skills are some of the best on the team. He just doesn't play that many minutes.
4. What do you see being the biggest advantage and weakness that this Arizona tea has this year?
Jason Bartel: Biggest advantage is size. This team boasts three seven-footers, and usually has at least two of them on the floor together at all times. Markkanen can shoot it from anywhere at his size, and Ristic has one of the best interior offensive games in the country.
Biggest weakness, at this time, is depth. As mentioned above, there are only seven available scholarship players available right now, and only three of them are guards/wings. If a backcourt player gets into foul trouble, things could get ugly, and Arizona would be forced to have walk-on Tyler Trillo play significant minutes.
5. How do you see this game playing out?
Arizona is unable to blow teams out right now, so it won't be that, but I don't see New Mexico being good enough to roll into Tucson and come away with the upset. I think Markkanen will be able to exploit the Lobos in this one and go for 20+ points and lead Arizona to a win where they're constantly up 10-15 points.