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December 1, 2012
The contest Saturday between ninth-ranked Arizona and Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, will not just feature two of 28 remaining unbeaten teams in the country.
The Wildcats and Red Raiders - both 4-0 this season - are a pair of programs who have rebounded from their share of adversity. Arizona returned just half of a 2011 recruiting class because of disciplinary issues, while Texas Tech had to replace head coach Billy Gillispie just 12 days before the season after he resigned amid health concerns and allegations of player mistreatment.
But UA head coach Sean Miller found a way to blend the nation's No. 3 recruiting class and the addition of fifth-year senior transfer Mark Lyons alongside key returners Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Nick Johnson. Together, the 'Cats have produced 85.3 points per game - tied for seventh in the country - and won by an average of 23.8 points. However, this also will be UA's first road contest of the season.
Meanwhile, interim head coach Chris Walker quickly regrouped and the Red Raiders currently lead the nation in scoring at 88.8 points per game - but against lower-tier competition.
Tipoff at United Spirit Arena is scheduled for 6 p.m. MST.
"He's a fiery guy and, to me, his team has taken on his personality and they seem to really be playing with a lot of energy and heart," Miller said of his counterpart, Walker.
And Miller would know.
The two coaches have some history on the hardwood. Although not close friends, they competed against one another in college while Miller was at Pittsburgh and Walker was at Villanova in the early 1990s.
"That's going to be fun," Walker said.
But the programs are in two different places. Arizona has climbed the national rankings each week while Texas Tech is continuing to prove that its coaching shakeup will not affect the results on the floor.
So far, the players have responded to Walker. Redshirt junior forward Jaye Crockett leads a quartet of double-figure scorers with team highs of 16 points and nine rebounds per game. But the Red Raiders have created offense through their defensive pressure, Walker said.
Through four games, Texas Tech owns a 102-43 advantage in points off turnovers.
"They're playing a home game against a top-10 team, so we have to be ready to play against a really hard-playing team that has a lot of athleticism and quickness that gives great effort," Miller said.
Added Walker: "I think that's the one advantage that we have."
The Wildcats' advantage, as will be the case in just about every game, will be the combination of balance, size and experience. UA has outrebounded opponents 146-99, including 45-29 on the offensive glass.
But Walker said his team cannot go into the game simply looking for "respect," and he added that the battle starts on the boards and limiting UA to one shot per possession.
"The bottom line is you have to pursue the ball," Walker said.
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor
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