No. 23 Arizona rides hot streak into old foe New Mexico
Arizona is ranked again and has a key player back in the rotation.
The No. 23 Wildcats (7-3) have looked better in the past couple of weeks, winning four consecutive games after dropping three in a row at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas late last month. That hot streak — which includes wins over Texas A&M and Alabama — moved Arizona back into the Associated Press Top 25 poll after going from No. 2 to unranked.
Coach Sean Miller will take his team to Albuquerque for its only game of the week, as the Wildcats will be making their first appearance at The Pit since January 1999 as they take on New Mexico. A late-game clock snafu helped the host Lobos get off a last-second shot to win that game, and former Arizona coach Lute Olson was so irate he vowed to never renew the series, which, at that point, consisted of 124 games.
Olson’s decision stood, even after his time as head coach ended a decade ago, until last season with Arizona taking down the Lobos 77-46 at McKale Center in Tucson.
The Wildcats have righted the ship after their late-November hiccup that culminated with a last-place finish at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Miller now has his entire roster after the return of sophomore wing Rawle Alkins, who made his season debut Saturday night in a 88-82 win over Alabama, and he’s looking forward toward building his team back up to where it was projected to be at the start of the year.
“There’s a lot to repair when you lose three in a row,” Miller said. “Part of it is guys just believing in themselves and what we talk about that we can be a good team. I think we’ve been able to restore that belief and confidence.”
Alkins’ return from surgery to repair a broken foot helped provide Arizona with some confidence, and he might be back in the starting lineup at small forward on Saturday. But the Wildcats continue to be paced by their two star players.
Freshman big man Deandre Ayton (20.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg) scored 29 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in the win over Alabama, while junior guard Allonzo Trier (22.3 ppg) added 25 points on just six shot attempts to go with six assists.
New Mexico (3-7) has gotten out to a rough start under first-year head coach Paul Weir. The Lobos are going through a bit of internal turmoil with leading scorer Sam Logwood (14.9 ppg) taking a leave from the team prior to its 65-62 loss to in-state rival New Mexico State last week. Logwood has since returned to practice but has not officially been welcomed back as part of the team.
New Mexico will have to rely on its other scorers such as junior guards Chris McNeal (13.3 ppg) and Anthony Mathis (10.6 ppg) if Logwood isn’t able to play in Saturday’s contest.
“I believe that really great things in life take time and adversity along the way,” Weir said. “We are obviously dealing with that. I just hope that we can continue to keep the spirit that we have.”
Both teams have just two games left in nonconference play after they face each other Saturday.