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December 3, 2013

Preview: No. 2 Arizona on deck

Texas Tech (6-2) faces its toughest test of the young season on the road against No. 2 Arizona (7-0).

WHEN: Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m.
WHERE: Tucson, Ariz. (McKale Center)
RADIO/TV
: Texas Tech Sports Network (affiliates) / Pac-12 Network
SERIES: Texas Tech leads the all-time series 28-22. Tubby Smith is 0-2 all-time against Arizona.

TECH TRENDS: Texas Tech's recent progress on the boards and at the line continued on Friday against UTSA. The Red Raiders outrebounded the Roadrunners by 10 and converted 71 percent of their 31 free throw attempts -- all encouraging numbers.

In the last two weeks, Tech has climbed from 59 percent from the line to 70 percent. From the floor Tech is now shooting just under 50 percent, thanks in part to Jaye Crockett (67.5 percent) who ranks eighth nationally in field goal percentage.

The Red Raiders also continues to dominate in the paint with 54 more points against UTSA bringing the total to 321 PIP over the season's first eight games. The 54 against the Roadrunners were the most posted by a Tech team in over five years. The last time Tech averaged over 40 PIP over an eight-game span was during the 1996-97 season. That will be a tough pace to maintain versus an Arizona frontline which is among the best in the country.

Another plus from Friday was bench scoring -- particularly by the freshman. The Red Raiders saw career-highs turned in by Randy Onwuasor (15 points), Aaron Ross (13) and Alex Foster (9).

OPPONENT STRENGTHS: Arizona climbed to No. 2 in the polls yesterday after winning it's fourth preseason NIT championship with a 72-66 win over Duke. Arizona and Michigan State have looked like the best two teams in college hoops over the first three weeks of the season.

There's not much that Arizona has not done well. The Wildcats rank seventh in the nation in field goal percentage defense and fourth nationally in rebounding at plus-13.6 on the boards. They shoot almost 40 percent from downtown, including 46 percent from three at the McKale Center. There is balance in their offensive attack both inside at out.

Freshman Aaron Gordon has turned in four double-doubles in Zona's first seven games. He averages 12 points and nine rebounds a game and is flanked by sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewksi, a seven-footer who really came on in the NIT in New York. Junior guard Nick Johnson is the team's top scorer at 17 points per game and new point guard TJ McConnell, who is 12th nationally in assists, has taken the reigns from departed senior Mark Lyons almost seamlessly.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle get all the ink as the most fabulous of the nation's freshmen, but Gordon isn't far behind. Gordon is a beast at 6-foot-9, 225-pounds with versatility to play the three and four spots.

Crockett, who expects to draw a lot of matchups with Gordon, said this of their matchup: "I know he's going to try to attack me and come to the bucket trying to rebound. I just have to stay in front of him and keep a body on him, making sure he doesn't try to drive. He's a real driving force and is a lot heavier than me so I have to keep a body on him and stay in front."

Crockett has been Tech's best scorer (14.5) and rebounder (7.3) per game this season. Depending on how much he draws Gordon on the defensive end, it'll be interesting to see how much the energy he expends on that end of the floor affects him on the other.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Arizona can beat you in so many ways as evidenced by its 85-57 win in Lubbock last year. In that game, the Wildcats outboarded the Red Raiders by 15 and had 16 second-chance points, while also throwing in eight threes.

Nick Johnson led the way with 18 a year ago and he's been UA's most consistent scoring threat again this year. He and the Wildcats shoot so well at home -- see the stat above about home court three-point percentage -- and when the three-point barrage starts, it's hard for visitors to weather the storm.

It's especially hard to keep pace when Arizona's size and length can be suffocating on the defensive end of the floor. Not only is its opponent FG percentage defense amongst the best nationally (35.3 percent), but the team's scoring defense (59.4 points per game) ranks 13th in the country. The Wildcats contest most every shot and many times hold the opposition to one-and-out possessions because of their rebound prowess.

The Red Raiders must value each possession and crash the glass to steal as many extra possessions as possible; Jordan Tolbert versus Brandon Ashley and Dejan Kravic/Kader Tapsoba versus Tarczewski on the glass will be pivotal in this one.

At the guard spots, Tech must contain the dribble penetration of McConnell and Johnson and it's also key that Rob Turner get some shots to fall early. When he's hitting and commanding more attention, the Red Raider offense seems to be at its best.

Finally, if an early run comes, they must remain calm as they did in Tuscaloosa and gradually try to chip their way into the deficit.



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