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December 23, 2013

No. 1 Arizona seeks perfect nonconference run



Top-ranked Arizona will look to complete its undefeated run through the nonconference portion of its schedule Monday night against Northern Arizona.

For Wildcats head coach Sean Miller, one challenge several of his players can take into the contest is the task of completing the feat in back-to-back seasons. UA started last season 14-0 before suffering its first loss in Pac-12 Conference play.

The Wildcats last lost a nonconference game Dec. 17, 2011 against Gonzaga in Seattle. They have not lost at home outside of the Pac-12 since dropping a 61-57 decision to San Diego State on Nov. 23, 2011.

The Wildcats (12-0) and Lumberjacks (3-7) are scheduled for an 8 p.m. MT tipoff at McKale Center.

"We have a couple players in our program that have never lost a nonconference game," Miller said after his team's 69-43 win over Southern University last Thursday. "That's a heck of a thing. And it's not as if we've just played teams we're supposed to beat. So that's something we're going to talk about."

Freshman Aaron Gordon helped Miller and the program extend its nonconference winning streak to 26 games. The 6-9 forward scored a career-high 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting.

But it was his rebounding - Gordon finished with four, half of his average coming into the contest - that left Miller uneasy. As a team, the Wildcats edged the Jaguars on the glass, 39-33, to tie their lowest margin of the season.

"Scoring is always good but I didn't rebound well enough, at all," said Gordon, who also was just 4 of 10 on free throws. "I pride myself on rebounding and to have a rebounding performance like that doesn't make me feel like I had a good game."

A big reason was the absence of 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski, who could miss his second consecutive game with a right ankle sprain. As of last week, the sophomore was still experiencing some swelling.

"He would not have been able to play tonight," Miller said after the win. "It wasn't as if we're just holding him out.

"We're going to take it slow. We want to make sure he's at his best for the Pac-12, and I have my fingers crossed that seven to 10 days from now he's in a really much better place. But we're really working hard right now to get him back."

To make up for it, however, the Wildcats finished in single digits in turnovers for a second consecutive game. In its previous six games, UA turned the ball over no less than 13 times.

The Wildcats had just eight against Southern and nine at Michigan on Dec. 14.

"I think that's a real key stat for our team," Miller said. "There's not a doubt in my mind our team has the ability to play with 10 or fewer."

In its last outing, NAU snapped a four-game losing streak with a 63-61 win over Grand Canyon University. Three Lumberjacks scored in double figures, led by guard Aaseem Dixon's 17 points - eight of which came via free throws.

Dixon (11.7 points) is the team's third-leading scorer behind Max Jacobsen (14.8 points) and Quinton Upshur (14.7 points).

Jacobsen, who made the go-ahead basket with 18 seconds to play, is shooting a team-high 59.4 percent from the field this season.

NAU has lost its last four games against top-25 programs by an average of 40.2 points.

New Annual GOAZCATS.com subscribers who sign up for a full year also will receive $99 in team gear at no extra cost.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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