No. 6 Tennessee plays at No. 9 Arizona in what will be an epic clash of styles on Saturday night in Tucson, Ariz.
Tennessee (9-1), tough and physical, ranks first nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com through Wednesday’s games. Arizona (9-1), which loves to play fast, is first in adjusted offensive efficiency and leads the country in scoring (92.0 points per game) and shooting percentage (54.7).
“It’s going to be a fistfight,” said Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd, whose program has won 24 consecutive games at McKale Center.
“That’s the way they play, and there’s just no other way to describe it. If you think you’re going to go in and win this game by being dainty and cute, you’ve got another thing coming. We’re excited for the challenge, and it’s a great program coming to McKale. I think Coach (Rick) Barnes is one of the best ever to do it, so it’s an honor for us to compete against them.”
The Vols, who will be playing their first road game, are first nationally in 3-point percentage defense (20.2), second in field goal percentage defense (32.7), and third in scoring defense (51.4 ppg) through Wednesday’s games. They beat then-No. 13 Maryland 56-53 in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Sunday, allowing only one two-point field goal in the first half.
Tennessee, long, rangy and excellent in pressuring the ball handler, might have the tools to stop Arizona from easily feeding the dynamic post duo of Azuolas Tubelis (20.2 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game) and Oumar Ballo (18.1, 9.4).
“It’s going to be hard because they really do a great job of putting the ball inside. From the time they get the ball, they’re looking at that basket,” Barnes said. “We’ve got a group of guys that have bought in to trying to be the best defensive team, best rebounding team we can be. We truly believe it gives us a chance to be in most games, win most games.”
Arizona point guard Kerr Kriisa played only five minutes in Tuesday night’s 99-61 victory over Texas A&M Corpus Christi due to a non-COVID illness. He is expected to play Saturday.
Tennessee is getting healthier.
Santiago Vescovi missed three games due to a shoulder injury before returning against Maryland. The 2022 first-team All-SEC selection is averaging 11.4 points. Another senior, Josiah-Jordan James (8.8 ppg), has been in and out of the lineup due to a knee injury. He missed the Maryland game, but is “certain” to return against Arizona, Barnes said Thursday.
Barnes was not as certain about 6-foot-11 Jonas Aidoo, who would be a potential key defensive presence against the Wildcats’ inside game. He could miss his second consecutive game due to illness. Julian Phillips leads five Tennessee double-digit scorers by averaging 11.6 points per game.
This meeting is the second part of a home-and-home series that began last season, when the Vols raced to a 16-2 lead and then held on late for a 77-73 victory in Knoxville.
“The second half, they just came rolling back and they did it with speed,” Barnes said. “Just really coming at us hard.”
–Field Level Media