Arizona hosts nonconference tune-up with Montana

NCAA

Arizona gets one more chance to prepare for the Pac-12 season when it hosts Montana on Tuesday night in Tucson.

The Wildcats (5-1) have scrambled all season to patch together a nonconference schedule, having had six games either postponed or canceled — all due to an opponent’s COVID-19 issues. Coach Sean Miller was so eager for another game that the program last Friday added a contest against San Diego.

That game was set for Monday afternoon, meaning Arizona was going to play on back-to-back days. And then the Toreros canceled on Sunday due to a COVID-19 positive test within their program.

“It’s hard on these guys. It really, really is,” said Miller, whose revamped team, with five new starters, lost its Pac-12 opener to Stanford on Saturday in Santa Cruz, Calif. “I want to make sure that I’m clear on that; my heart goes out to our players. This is not easy to just power through.”

Arizona jumps back into Pac-12 competition vs. Colorado on Dec. 28.

Arizona took a late lead but lost 78-75 against the Cardinal. Stanford shot 52.7 percent for the game, including 53.8 percent from 3-point range, leaving Miller with plenty of talking points on defense.

“Our defense was not good enough to win,” he said. “There were a number of breakdowns.”

A bright spot was the continued hot shooting of guard Jemarl Baker Jr., who scored 29 points and made 8 of 13 attempts from behind the arc. He is averaging a team-best 16.7 points and hitting 47.6 percent from 3-point range (20 of 42) after also pouring in 33 points vs. Northern Arizona on Dec. 7.

Montana (3-4) opened with four losses but has bounced back with three consecutive victories, including a 66-58 decision at Pac-12 opponent Washington last Wednesday. The Grizzlies’ losses include a 76-62 setback at another Pac-12 team, Southern California, and a pair of one-point defeats to Southern Utah in Big Sky competition.

It might still be difficult to get a good read on Montana because the three-game winning streak also includes home routs of non-NCAA teams Yellowstone Christian College and Dickinson State.

“Vast improvement,” coach Travis DeCuire said of his team at this point.

“I wish we had an opportunity to get some Division I opponents in here … you get a chance to really see what that growth looks like. You just have to take advantage of every opportunity you have in front of you, and I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

Kyle Owens, a sophomore forward, leads Montana with team-highs in points per game (13.1) and rebounds (7.6). Michael Steadman is averaging 12.0 points.

–Field Level Media

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