Preview: Arizona vs. Cal State Bakersfield

Freshman Kobi Simmons (left) had a team-high 18 points for Arizona in its season-opening win over Michigan State.
WPPROD

Freshmen scored more than half of Arizona's points in its opening victory over Michigan State.

But coach Sean Miller put the ball in the hands of a fifth-year senior with the game on the line.

Guard Kadeem Allen delivered with a coast-to-coast layup in the final seconds as 10th-ranked Arizona 65-63 beat then-No. 12 Michigan State last Friday night in Honolulu. Miller will continue to look to Allen to guide a young team, which opens its home schedule Tuesday night against Cal State Bakersfield in McKale Center, starting at 10 p.m. ET.

“He is the guy that every coach in the country would love to have on their team, because he really only cares about one thing, and that is winning,” Miller said.

Allen, the team's only available senior, starts at shooting guard after spending most of last season a bit miscast as the starting point guard. The move off the ball allows Allen to focus on his defense, where Miller says he might be the best perimeter defender he's coached.

“Being off the ball, I feel I have a lot more energy to guard the other team's best player and not really have to focus on the offense as much,” Allen said.

Arizona played its opener, and its two exhibitions, without sophomore guard Allonzo Trier, who averaged 14.8 points per game last season. He is reportedly dealing with eligibility issues, although school officials have declined to comment on his status or any timetable for a potential return.

As for the freshmen, guard Kobi Simmons, taking advantage of Trier's absence, led the Wildcats with 18 points, including 15 in the first half. Power forward Lauri Markkanen scored 13, including making 2 of 3 3-pointers. Wing Rawle Alkins scored three.

“Kobi stepped up big-time,” Allen said. “The first half, he really carried the team on his back. We fed off his energy.”

Without Trier, Arizona has eight available scholarship players, so the three freshmen, plus junior college transfer forward Keanu Pinder, have to continue to play big roles.

Cal State Bakersfield went 24-9 last season and earned its first NCAA Tournament berth since moving to NCAA Division I for the 2007-08 season. The Roadrunners beat New Mexico State in the 2016 WAC tournament title game to qualify for the NCAAs.

The Roadrunners lost to second-seeded Oklahoma 82-68 in the first round, but they led with 14:26 to go and were down only four with 4:18 remaining.

CSUB won this season's opener, 96-54, over visiting San Diego Christian on Saturday night. The Roadrunners were led by a newcomer, wing Shon Briggs, who spent last season at City College of San Francisco. He scored 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting in his Roadrunners debut.

“We've put him in a lot of positions where he can just do what he likes to do,” said coach Rod Barnes. “We've kind of figured him out a little bit in where he likes to get the ball, and he's really dangerous once he catches it.”

Senior guard Dedrick Basile, who had 11 points in the opener, is on the preseason watch list for the Lou Henson Award, given to the nation's top Division I mid-major player. Basile averaged 12.0 points, 3.7 assists and 1.8 steals last season, when he had a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to win the WAC title game.

Arizona's game against CSUB is the first of three home games in a span of six days for the Wildcats. They play Sacred Heart on Friday night and Northern Colorado on Monday, Nov. 21.