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No. 8 Arizona opposes Cal Baptist ahead of rough stretch

No. 8 Arizona will face its final tune-up before a difficult stretch of road games when it plays California Baptist on Saturday in Tucson, Ariz.

The Wildcats (10-0) have rolled through their schedule, winning seven games by at least 25 points and leading the nation in scoring (91.7 points per game) and scoring margin (28.6 per game).

“I don’t mind close games,” said Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd, who joined J.F. “Pop” McKale as the only coaches in program history to win his first 10 games as head coach.

“I’ve been in a lot of close games and I’ve been in some blowouts. I think as a coach you’re anticipating going in to compete and playing a hard-fought, close game because that is what it takes to be a championship team.”

California Baptist (8-2), which is coming off a 70-54 loss at UC Riverside on Sunday, features freshman Taran Armstrong, who is averaging 12 points and 8.3 assists per game.

He dished a school-record 15 assists in a win over North Dakota on Dec. 7.

“He’s loving being a college basketball player,” coach Rick Croy said. “He’s been waiting for these opportunities. …

“The attention he is getting is deserved because he’s worked so hard in so many different areas. Beyond that, he came into our program, played so hard and conditioned at such a high level. The guys love playing with him. It’s fun to watch him develop.”

This will be the second top-10 opponent of the season for the Lancers, whose other defeat came Nov. 24 at then-No. 8 Texas, 68-44. Their leading scorer is Daniel Akin at 13.6 points per game.

Arizona’s schedule has trended to the softer side, although a road win at Illinois and neutral-court victories over Wichita State and Michigan support the case that Lloyd’s surprising team is legit. More will soon be known.

After facing Cal Baptist, the Wildcats play at No. 18 Tennessee on Wednesday, at No. 4 UCLA on Dec. 30 and at No. 10 Southern California on Jan. 2. The road stretch ends Jan. 8 at rival Arizona State, which has played well lately.

Arizona looks to be ready for all of it. The Wildcats are a fast-paced team that loves to share the ball, entering Saturday’s contest leading the nation in assists per game (21.9).

They had six players score in double figures during a 101-76 victory over visiting Northern Colorado on Wednesday night, when they reached triple digits for the third time this season.

Bennedict Mathurin leads the scoring parade with 17.7 points per game, followed by Azuolas Tubelis (15.8), Christian Koloko (13.8) and Kerr Kriisa (12.4). Arizona is shooting 49.6 percent, with the variety of scoring threats giving opponents matchup problems.

Northern Colorado often tried a triangle-and-two zone, but Arizona still shot 53.4 percent.

“There’s probably a few more tricky defenses out there, and if we see them, to me that’s probably a sign of respect for us,” Lloyd said. “That means we’re a good team and teams are having to dig deep to find plans to play against us.”

Cal Baptist also played Northern Colorado this season, winning 74-70 on Nov. 21.

–Field Level Media