Texas Southern-Arizona Preview
Arizona's loss to Butler on Friday night revealed some of the flaws hidden when playing against inferior opponents.
The Wildcats opened the season with a victory over short-handed and youthful Michigan State, but the Bulldogs are a bigger, deeper and more-veteran team. Butler beat Arizona 69-65 in a hard-fought game in the Las Vegas Invitational, which dropped the Wildcats (5-1) from eighth to 16th in the AP poll.
“We're a work in progress,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
The Wildcats will try to make progress when they faces Texas Southern on Wednesday in Tucson, Ariz. (9 p.m. ET, Pac 12 Network). The Tigers (4-2) were predicted to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference in a preseason vote of league coaches and sports information directors.
This will be the seventh of 16 road games to start the season for the Tigers, who are coming off an 84-73 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette on Sunday. They are coached by Mike Davis, the former head man at Indiana and UAB.
He directed Texas Southern into the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and 2015, the latter appearance resulting in a 93-72 opening-round loss to Arizona in Portland, Ore. That is the only previous matchup between the programs.
The Wildcats return only two players from that team — point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and center Dusan Ristic, both juniors. That helps tell the tale of a young team still finding its way this season.
Because of injuries and guard Allonzo Trier's unexplained absence, Miller is working with eight scholarship players. Three are freshman, another is a junior college transfer.
“We lost to a very good basketball team,” Miller said Friday night. “Butler will be a team in the NCAA Tournament. They have a lot of experience. They are a little further along at this point than we are with that experience.
“We played through foul trouble. We had to play through some adversity. We didn't play well at times, but our effort was outstanding. That was the most important thing. When you do that, you learn from it.”
Trier, who averaged 14.8 points per game as a freshman last season, has not played this season. The school has not commented amid rumors of eligibility issues.
Freshman 7-foot forward Lauri Markkanen has emerged as the team's leading scorer (18.2 points per game), but he was limited by foul trouble against Butler, scoring 15 points in 21 minutes before fouling out.
“He was not able to assert himself,” Miller said. “A couple of fouls he probably could have controlled by being where he was supposed to be.”
Freshman guard Kobi Simmons (12.7 ppg) and freshman wing Rawle Alkins (10.3 ppg) are the next two top scorers for the Wildcats.
Texas Southern is led in scoring by junior guard Zach Lofton, who has spent time at Illinois State and Minnesota. He is averaging 20.5 points per game. Another transfer guard, Dulani Robinson from Pacific, is averaging 14.5 points per game.
Derrick Griffin, a 6-7 power forward who won last season's SWAC Player of the Year award, is averaging 12.2 points and 8.8 rebounds. He has been selected All-SWAC in basketball and football (2015, as a receiver), though he was dismissed from the football team this September.
“They're a very good team that can shoot the basketball,” Louisiana-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin said of Texas Southern. “They have great players in Lofton and Robinson, and Griffin is an outstanding athlete.”