UA-CLEMSON

Arizona basketball: UA may see hostile Tigers' den

Football-wild Clemson expects hoops sellout, but No. 8 Cats like road
2012-12-08T00:00:00Z 2014-08-01T11:22:31Z Arizona basketball: UA may see hostile Tigers' denBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 08, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Every football Saturday, the population of Clemson, S.C., balloons more than five times its 14,000 citizens. Then, after enjoying what a magazine recently called "The South's Best Tailgate," everybody crams into the stadium informally known as "Death Valley."

Over the past 30 football seasons, the Tigers have attracted 80,000 fans or more some 64 times. And this season, when Clemson went 10-2, they nearly averaged that much - 79,429.

Clemson senior center Devin Booker would be happy to see a small fraction of them show up tonight, when the Tigers host Arizona in basketball.

"I really hope the fans come out and support us," Booker said. "Football is jam-packed, with tailgating and all that. I just wish we had the same support system."

The Tigers might sense some of that love tonight. Clemson is expected to attract a near-sellout of 10,000-seat Littlejohn Coliseum tonight, by far their biggest crowd so far this season.

But there's one problem: The football Tigers are going to the Chick-fil-A Bowl against LSU.

So it's not quite basketball season yet in Clemson.

"People here are pretty into football, and sometimes it takes a while" to attract fans for basketball, Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "We draw OK, but we'd like to have a sellout for this kind of game, and against a team like this you should. There's a good chance it will be sold out."

Other than filing seats, here are three other challenges the Tigers are facing tonight:

• Makeup. Oddly, while Brownell is in his third season, there are no juniors in the rotation. Clemson is led by seniors Milton Jennings and Booker, but otherwise relies heavily on sophomores.

"It's not an ideal situation," Brownell said. "In your third year, you'd like to have a junior class, but we've had some guys leave, and we're not as experienced. We certainly didn't plan it that way, but we're doing the best we can."

And of the sophomores, guard T.J. Sapp, who started but averaged only 15.1 minutes, opted to transfer from the program earlier this week.

• Instability. Not only did Sapp take off, but Booker was suspended for an exhibition game this season, and Jennings is returning tonight from a two-game suspension following an arrest for suspicion of marijuana possession.

"We've been a little short-handed," Brownell said. "We had to discipline Milton and certainly missed him, and we had a player who wanted to play more and he moved on. That's fine. But having said that, we have some guys competing hard."

Booker said his "season could have been better starting off," and that he believes Jennings' mistake is behind him. Jennings, a former McDonald's All-American, also was suspended twice last season.

"I'm pretty sure he's gotten the message," Booker said. "He has to step up and become a big-time player for us. That's what he's been doing for us this year."

Jennings was kept off limits from media this week, but he apologized in a Clemson news release.

"This was obviously the biggest mistake of my life," Jennings said. "I hurt so many people."

• The opposition. Even if Clemson does manage to fill Littlejohn, or at least provide a hostile environment, that doesn't necessarily give the Tigers an edge.

Although it's too early to tell if UA will be an effective road team this season, even after it pummeled Texas Tech in Lubbock last week, the Wildcats have often played well on the road during coach Sean Miller's tenure.

The Wildcats fly charter to most road games, reducing fatigue, and junior guard Jordin Mayes and senior transfer Mark Lyons said they enjoy the challenge of playing away from home.

"I like road games better personally," Lyons said. "I kind of like the pressure and having everybody against our team. I like going in with my guys, and we all fight for each other, have each other's back throughout the whole game.

"Like Jordin said, there's no better feeling than going into someone else's home and coming back with the victory. There's nothing better than that."

On StarNet: Be a part of today's UA basketball game against Clemson with StarNet's live fan chat at live.azstarnet.com

Today

• Who: No. 8 Arizona (6-0) at Clemson (5-2)

• When: 6 p.m.

• TV; radio: ESPN2; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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