Ball St.-Arizona Preview
Arizona has gradually improved since a shocking exhibition loss last month, but coach Sean Miller's team still needs to get off to better starts.
Fortunately for the 16th-ranked Wildcats, sophomore guard Jordin Mayes has helped the team finish strong.
Arizona concludes its season-opening three-game homestand Sunday when it faces Ball State for the first time.
The Wildcats have bounced back since a 69-68 upset loss to Division II Seattle Pacific on Oct. 27, beating Humboldt State in an exhibition game and winning their first two games to open the season.
They've held opponents to 61.5 points per game and 36.4 percent shooting, but the Wildcats' 2-0 start doesn't mean the team is anywhere near a finished product. Arizona has missed 20 of 66 free throws, committed 35 turnovers and has not held a halftime lead of more than two points.
Mayes, though, has been the Wildcats' second-half spark, recording 22 of his team-high 27 points following halftime. The sophomore scored all eight of his points during a 16-3 second-half run in Monday's 73-64 season-opening victory over Valparaiso, and he added 14 of his career-best 19 after the break Wednesday in a 67-59 win against Duquesne.
"Coach stays in my ear, hyping me and telling me to stay confident,'' said Mayes, who has hit 6 of 11 from 3-point range. "I'm going to play my game the way he wants me to play and help the team the best possible way."
Before Arizona heads to New York City for Thursday's matchup against St. John's in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic, it will try to win its 22nd straight home game.
Ball State coach Billy Taylor brings his squad to Tucson to face a member of the Pac-12 for the first time since a 91-73 win over then-No. 3 UCLA in the Maui Invitational on Nov. 20, 2001.
The Cardinals return four starters from a 19-13 team that lost nine of its final 15 games but still posted its first winning season since going 15-13 in 2004-05.
If the Cardinals are going to make a push for their first conference title since 2000, that could hinge on the play of senior forward Jarrod Jones.
Jones, a first-team all-conference pick last season with team highs in scoring (14.7 points per game) and rebounds (8.4), had 16 points with seven rebounds in Monday's 72-47 exhibition victory over Taylor.
Repeating that effort could be a challenge against Jesse Perry. The senior is averaging 12.5 points and 10.5 boards while becoming the first Wildcats player since Jordan Hill in 2008-09 to record double-doubles in the opening two games.
Mayes and senior guard Kyle Fogg could have their hands full with the Cardinals backcourt of senior Randy Davis and junior Jauwan Scaife.
Davis averaged 9.8 points last season while leading the Cardinals with career highs in assists (160), steals (48) and free throws with 117.
Scaife, who had 15 points Monday, hit a career-best and team-leading 56 3-pointers in 2010-11.
One of two Ball State freshmen, guard Zeke Chapman - son of former Phoenix Suns guard Rex Chapman - begins his collegiate career 120 miles from where he starred at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale.
Arizona has not faced a Mid-American Conference team since 1995, when Miller was an assistant at Miami of Ohio and helped engineer a first-round NCAA tournament upset of the Wildcats.