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November 14, 2013

No. 6 Arizona hits the road for 'tough test' at SDSU

SAN DIEGO -- Coming off a pair of home victories, the last of which presented no challenge, sixth-ranked Arizona could be in for one of the tougher games it plays all season.

The Wildcats (2-0) will play their first road contest when they meet San Diego State (1-0) for the third time in as many seasons Thursday.Tipoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. PT at Viejas Arena, which is expected to be sold out for a 24th consecutive game.

And it is the "true" road environment, particularly early in the season, that has UA head coach Sean Miller prepared for a "tough test." SDSU has won 40 of its last 41 nonconference home games, establishing itself as one of the more difficult environments for opposing teams.

The Aztecs have won three consecutive home games against Associated Press Top 25 teams.

"To me, they're an NCAA tournament team," Miller said. "I know what their arena is like. It's going to be a very, very difficult game. I think we're going to have to need one of the best games of the season to have a chance to beat them."

Miller's last trip in 2009 ended in a 63-46 loss, one that he remembers all too well. But the Aztecs will not even resemble last season' program that lost to the Wildcats in heartbreaking fashion, 68-67, after a Nick Johnson blocked shot sealed the game.

SDSU added the services of Tulane graduate transfer Josh Davis, a one-time Arizona target this offseason, while other key pieces moved into bigger roles.

Davis, a 6-8, 215-pound forward, scored 11 points and pulled down eight rebounds in the Aztecs' season-opening 77-41 win over UC Riverside. A one-time N.C. State signee, Davis averaged a double-double last season.

"Just watching [Davis] here early on, he's a handful," Miller said. "To me, he's an NBA player."

Sophomore Winston Shepard is among those with more of a load after averaging 5.7 points in 20.3 minutes last season. The versatile 6-8 forward scored 10 points to go with six rebounds and five assists against UCR.

Meanwhile, Xavier Thames brings the most experience - and especially against Arizona. Thames led the team with 15 points last week.

"He's a point guard who's been around and he's played against us a number of times," Miller said of Thames. "He's an older, experienced player. He's an all-conference type of point guard. You just don't find that type of experience and quality at that position."

Outside of Johnson and sophomores Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, the Wildcats also bring in a new-look group.

Point guard T.J. McConnell has made a seamless transition at point guard after sitting out last season, per NCAA transfer rules. The junior has a 7-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio through two games, including a season-high eight assists in Monday's 91-57 win over Long Beach State.

Sophomore reserve Gabe York, who was buried on the bench and did not play in last season's game against SDSU, is averaging 13 points and shooting 6 of 11 from the 3-point line.

Then, there is Aaron Gordon. The 6-9 forward has double-doubles in each of his first two games, averaging a team-high-tying 13.5 points and 10 boards.

Even with all the moving pieces, UA has allowed its first two opponents to shoot a combined 31.6 percent and LBSU made just five of its first 35 shots in the opening half.

Aztecs head coach Steve Fisher has been impressed with UA's start, and particularly Gordon, who is one of 50 players on the initial John R. Wooden Award list.

"They're legitimately a top-five team," Fisher said.

"[Gordon is] very talented. He's got a high motor and high basketball IQ. He's got all the ingredients that allow you to be in elite company when they talk about the best players in the country."

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Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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