Tucson, AZ (Sports Network) - The Arizona Wildcats will attempt to open the season with three straight wins when they host the Long Beach State 49ers at the McKale Center on Monday.
Long Beach State will try to avoid losing three straight games in this contest. A NCAA Tournament team last season, the 49ers were handed losses by USCc (62-44) and North Carolina (78-63) in its last two outings after winning the season opener against North Alabama (75-65). This is one of three straight games on the road for the 49ers who will continue on to face Fresno State next.
Meanwhile, Arizona has handled its business through its first two games. The Wildcats opened the season with an 82-73 win against Charleston Southern which they followed up with a more convincing 72-51 triumph over UTEP. After this contest the Wildcats will be off for more than a week before hosting Northern Arizona on Nov. 28 as the final game of the current four-game homestand.
The Wildcats haven't just won all three games in the series with Long Beach State, they have dominated. Arizona has averaged 93.3 points per game with a winning margin of +31. These teams haven't met since 1995.
In the first half against North Carolina, the 49ers stayed right with the Tar Heels and went into halftime with just a one-point deficit (33-32). However Long Beach State's defense fell off in the second half with the 49ers allowing North Carolina to shoot an even 50 percent. Points from the perimeter were a major factor in the game as well as the 49ers were outscored 30-15 from beyond the arc. James Ennis finished with a team-high 18 points but missed on all four shots from 3-point range.
For a team that excelled on the offensive end of the floor last season, Long Beach State has really regressed this year. The 49ers are scoring just 60.7 points per game and connecting on only 37.4 percent of its shots from the floor. That has led to a -7.6 scoring differential. Ennis was a starter for the 49ers last season and has returned to be the team's top player. He leads the way both in scoring (16.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.3 pg), while shooting at an impressive 48.6 percent from the floor. Sophomore guard Michael Caffey (13.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.0 apg) is also scoring in double figures this season but his shooting (25.5 FG percentage) has been less than mediocre. Kris Gulley (8.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Dan Jennings (6.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg) have both been strong rebounders for a Long Beach State squad that has had success on the boards (39.7 rpg).
Speaking of rebounding, Arizona was absolutely dominant on the glass in its rout of UTEP. The Wildcats finished with 35 rebounds to the meager 15 brought down by the Miners. Arizona also shot better from 3-point range and finished with a strong 48.9 percent shooting performance overall. The shooting and rebounding helped the Wildcats overcome 19 turnovers. Mark Lyons didn't help on the boards, but scored 17 points including nine from beyond the arc.
That was the exact same amount of points Lyons put up in his team debut. Through two games the Xavier-transfer has fit in just as predicted with the senior guard providing knock-down shooting from the perimeter. Solomon Hill (12.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg) was the player for which much of the hype for the season centered on. The senior forward is one of four different players averaging at least 5.0 rebounds per game and leads the team in shooting from beyond the arc (6-of-11). The ability to score from inside and out makes Hill a difficult matchup for opposing squads. Brandon Ashley (10.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is the only other player scoring in double figures while also turning in the best performance on the glass, despite making those contributions off the bench. Nick Johnson (9.5 ppg) can score when called upon while also showing a knack for finding open teammates (4.0 apg).