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Poke Basketball Preview & Prediction: Arizona Wildcats

Cowboys take on Wildcats in matchup of unbeatens

Syndication: Arizona Republic Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

What: Wyoming Cowboys @ Arizona Wildcats

When: Wednesday, December 8, 2021, 8:00 p.m. MT

Where: Mckale Memorial Center, Tucson, AZ

Network: PAC12

Line: Wyoming +16 ½

Series: The Wyoming Cowboys and the Arizona Wildcats have met a total of 35 times with the Wildcats leading the all-time series 20-15. The two teams haven’t met on the basketball court since 2004 with Arizona winning that matchup 98-70.

The Cowboys will take their undefeated record on the road to Tucson this week in what’s sure to be a highly anticipated matchup with the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats have started their season with an unblemished record, just like the Cowboys, and come into this matchup ranked 11th nationally. They are coming off a dominating victory over Oregon State on Sunday, beating the Beavers by a score of 90-65. The Wildcats are led by a big three that consists of Guard Benedict Mathurin, Center Christian Koloko, and Forward Azuolas Tubelis. The trio has performed well in the early campaign under first year Head Coach Tommy Lloyd, and will look to continue that when facing off with Wyoming on Wednesday night. Mathurin leads the scoring charge for the Wildcats, averaging 16 points per game, followed closely by Koloko and Tubelis, who are each averaging 15.6 points, respectively.

Wyoming, much like Arizona, is also coming into Wednesday’s contest following a convincing win. The Cowboys bested Mcneese State last Saturday by a score of 79-58. The victory was the Cowboys’ eighth consecutive victory and their fifth consecutive game holding their opponent to under 66 points. Jeff Linder’s Pokes have been led so far this season by Senior Guard Hunter Maldonado and rising Sophomore Graham Ike. Ike has been no less than dominating in the Cowboys’ first eight games, averaging 20.8 points and 9 rebounds per game, while Maldonado has also been a heavy contributor in just about every facet, averaging 18.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game.

While both of these teams have depth and versatility on the offensive side of the ball, this game will more than likely be headlined by the high-level defense that is on display. The Cowboys have stifled opposing offenses all year long, holding their opponents to 36.1% shooting, the 10th lowest among all of Division 1. The Wildcats have done a lot of the same, holding their opponents to a shockingly even more impressive 34% from the field, good for second best in Division 1. These two teams are coming in playing some of the best basketball out of all the other teams in the country, and there’s no doubt that whoever emerges victorious will be making a statement to the rest of the field.

Keys to a Cowboy Victory: .

1. Feed Graham Ike

The Cowboys have performed extremely well this season in large part due to the level of play from 6’ 9” Sophomore Graham Ike. Ike has dominated down low, leading the team in points, rebounds and steals. The offense works best when he is directly involved, so if the Cowboys are able to get him good looks early on, they will give themselves their best chance at a win on Wednesday night.

2. Control the tempo

If there’s one thing that is for certain, it’s that the Wildcats like to get out on the break and run. Arizona does a lot of its work on the fast break, taking 40% of their shots while doing so. They are a team that will run you out of the gym and force you to take bad shots on the other end. Luckily, the Cowboys have done a good job of taking a lot of high-percentage shots and making them, shooting a solid 50% from the field on the year. This gives opposing teams less opportunities to push the ball quickly up the floor. If the Cowboys can continue that trend and do a good job of getting back quickly on defense, they’ll give themselves a shot at a win.

3. Win the battle of the boards

If the Cowboys want to make sure this game is within reach, they’ll need to be able to compete on the boards. Arizona is a team that does a number of things well including crashing the offensive/defensive glass. The Wildcats have yet to yield their rebounding dominance to any of their opponents this season, while Wyoming has done a good job of this as well, out rebounding all but one of their opponents thus far. The cause for concern is that Wyoming has allowed double-digit offensive rebounds in a number of games this season, including 22 offensive boards to Grand Canyon.

Prediction:

Arizona is ranked in the top fifteen because there aren’t a lot of things they don’t do well. They score efficiently at a high-clip, assist on most of their made buckets, and defend rigorously. It’s hard for me to envision the Pokes leaving Tucson unscathed and with a perfect record intact, but I like them to keep this game closer than the spread will indicate given how well they’ve performed thus far on the road.

Final score:

Arizona 88

Wyoming 79