No. 17 Arizona's hot start landed the Wildcats in the national rankings this week, and they will look to keep the momentum going Saturday against Sacramento State in Tucson, Ariz.
Arizona (5-0) is coming off one of the most impressive wins of the early college basketball season, dispatching then-No. 4 Michigan 80-62 on Sunday to win the championship game of the Roman Main Event in Las Vegas.
Instead of dealing with outside skepticism about his teams' potential, first-year coach Tommy Lloyd now must handle a barrage of atta-boys.
"it's not challenging for me, because I don't pay attention to any of it," Lloyd said this week. "We'll definitely talk about it as a team, and I already have, but just it's a dangerous path to go down where you start reading your own press clippings."
Sacramento State (3-2) is playing under interim head coach Brandon Laird, a veteran of the Hornets coaching staff who moved up when head coach Brian Katz retired on Nov. 5 due to health reasons.
Sacramento State, which defeated UC Davis 75-63 on Tuesday in its most recent game, will be playing its second game against a Pac-12 foe, having lost 89-56 at Utah on Nov. 13. Bryce Fowler leads Sacramento State with 16.2 points per game.
Laird's squad forced 17 turnovers against UC Davis, also allowing just 39.6 percent shooting -- 23.5 percent from 3-point range. He has been looking for his team to play aggressive on-ball defense.
"That's a glimpse at Sacramento State basketball," Laird said after the game. "That's the way we're trying to play. We wanted to play with fearlessness, aggression and confidence."
The Hornets will have to try to maintain that against an Arizona team that is excelling in all those areas. Lloyd is giving his players much more freedom on offense and defense than previous coach Sean Miller did, and the result has been fast-paced, entertaining basketball.
Arizona has three players averaging 15.4 points per game -- Christian Koloko, Bennedict Mathurin and Azuolas Tubelis.
The Wildcats are averaging 88.8 points per game and have been defensive hounds, holding foes to 31.8 percent shooting (101 of 318) and posting a rebounding margin of 10.6 per game.
Koloko was the MVP of the Roman Main Event, averaging 17.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks in wins over Wichita State and Michigan. He has 20 blocks in five games.
"He's playing with great effort," Lloyd said "That is the most encouraging thing. The shot blocks are a result of great effort and intelligence."
One rotational player who has struggled early is Utah transfer Pelle Larsson, a shooting ace who suffered a broken foot in late August. He returned in time to start the season but hasn't found his rhythm on either end of the court.
"To be part of a good team, not everybody is going to play good at every moment," Lloyd said. "Pelle is a really good player. He's kind of been put in a tough situation, bouncing back from injury and literally just kind of easing himself into practice as games started.
"I know he's going to be great for us offensively. If waiting for Pelle Larsson to come along is my biggest problem than I don't got many problems."
--Field Level Media