Tucson, Ariz. - McKale Center
1 p.m., TV - CBS (Verne Lundquist, Billy Packer)
"I don't think we've faced anyone with those credentials . . . one is a horse (Hansbrough) and the other is a flat-out athlete (Wright). ... We have to take care of the ball. We have to do a job on the boards. It's got to be everybody. ... They go 10 deep. It'll be an up-tempo game." -- Lute Olson
"All I said last year was that we'll get them when they come back here." -- Jawann McClellan
"It's something we've been looking forward to. It's obviously a big game for us. We'll be up for the test." -- Mustafa Shakur
Season to Date: Arizona was expected to be a Top 10-caliber team this season, but a season-opening slip-up and a recent Pac-10 skid has them ranked No. 17/19 in the polls heading into Saturday's matchup. The Wildcats began the year by blowing a lead at Virginia, but then rattled off 12 straight wins -- including quality opponents in Memphis, Louisville, Illinois, UNLV, Stanford and Washington. However, a run of tough conference opponents in January produced four losses in five contests. There's no shame in losing by narrow margins to ranked foes Washington State, Oregon, USC and UCLA, but when Lute Olson has his first three-game Pac-10 losing streak in 22 years, it's newsworthy. Arizona bounced back on Wednesday with a 71-47 thrashing of Arizona State, even with leading scorer Marcus Williams sidelined due to a one-game suspension.
Key Point: Arizona relies heavily on its senior point guard, Mustafa Shakur, and can ill-afford to take him out of the game. This month in an overtime loss to Washington State, he played all 45 minutes, and in a loss one week later to Oregon, he played all 40 minutes. Consistency had been an issue during Shakur's first three seasons, but his senior campaign has established him as one of the nation's premier point guards. Shakur is averaging 7.6 assists, sporting a 2.40 assist-to-turnover ratio and has become a reliable outside shooter.
Wingmen: The core of this Wildcat team is its three starting wing players. The best of the trio is Marcus Williams, a 6-7 sophomore who will likely be an NBA two-guard next season. He's dangerous off the dribble and can score from deep, mid-range or by attacking the hoop. Freshman leaper Chase Budinger is living up to his high school All-American billing and while he's better suited for the small forward spot (and can be vulnerable defending true post players), he creates obvious matchup problems for opponents. The third wing is Jawann McClellan, and while perhaps not as big a scorer as was expected, he can't be left alone beyond the arc. In fact, Arizona's entire starting lineup can shoot the three -- McClellan (41%) and Shakur (38%) in the backcourt, Budinger has connected on the second most three-pointers on the team and is at 37-percent, while Williams has hit 15 on the season and center Ivan Radenovic leads the team at 45-percent.
Post Void: The one true post player in the starting lineup is Ivan Radenovic, a face-up power forward forced to play the "5." Coming off the bench are 6-9 freshman Jordan Hill and 6-6 junior bruiser Bret Brielmaier. Hill had contributed little this season until his 12-point, 9-rebound showing on Wednesday starting in place of Marcus Williams (one-game suspension). Brielmaier has been out three weeks with a knee injury, but is expected to be able to go against UNC. Thanks to the strong efforts on the boards by the team's wings, Arizona is able to hold its own in the rebounding margin (+5.9 on the season), though the Wildcats allowed 21 offensive boards last month against Stanford's collection of big men.
Shallow Bench: All five starters for the 'Cats average more than 31 minutes per game and double-digit points. The top scorer off the bench? That'd be Jordan Hill's 2.6 points per game. So while Arizona isn't going to win the bench scoring statistic against the Tar Heels, they have no plans to slow down the tempo. They are a high-octane team with a starting lineup featuring quickness and athleticism across the board. They've excelled in transition all season and have indicated they plan to run with Carolina.
Pre-Game Hype: Arizona hasn't hosted an opponent ranked this high in six seasons. That, plus the fact that the game pits two of the game's most highly-respected coaches and programs, and the importance of a big win for a Wildcat team that has struggled this month, has fans and media labeling it Arizona's biggest home game in years. Check out the classifieds at Craig's List and you'll see a game ticket selling for $1,250.
Series History: The Tar Heels hold a 3-3 record all-time against Arizona. The two teams have met twice deep in the NCAA Tournament ('88, '97) and the Wildcats won both matchups. Last season in Chapel Hill, UNC prevailed, 86-69, as the Heels controlled the boards (+8), shot extremely well (57% FG) and got a game-high 21 points and 11 rebounds from Tyler Hansbrough.
15 Mustafa Shakur (6-3, 190, Sr.) – 14.2 ppg, 7.6 apg 5 Jawann McClellan (6-4, 211, Jr.) - 11.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg 3 Marcus Williams (6-7, 205, So.) – 18.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg 34 Chase Budinger (6-7, 205, Fr.) – 15.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg 55 Ivan Radenovic (6-10, 240, Sr.) – 17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg Key Reserves: 43 Jordan Hill (6-9, 211, Fr.) – 2.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg 12 Daniel Dillon (6-3, 203, Jr.) – 2.3 ppg 13 Nic Wise (5-9, 190, Fr.) – 2.3 ppg 44 Bret Brielmaier (6-6, 237, Jr.) – 1.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg
Shakur ....... Williams
Budinger ....... Radenovic
McClellan ....... Hill
(Photos courtesy AP)