After he was done gushing over San Diego State’s formally announced practice facility plans Tuesday, Aztecs coach Steve Fisher was asked what he thought of Arizona.
He paused briefly and grinned
“They’re good. I know no one else recognizes that,” Fisher said, chuckling, during a news conference today at San Diego State. “They’re a legit top five team. … They’ve got returnees, (T.J.) McConnell, the point guard at Duquesne, now a key player for Arizona. Gordon, the much heralded freshman, and (Rondae) Jefferson the other freshman. This is a really good team and we will find out quickly if we’re able to measure up at this stage with a top 5 team.”
The Aztecs say they can.
“I feel it’s an opportunity for us both to play a good team and also get better,” forward Josh Davis said. “We’re just looking forward to this game.”
Added forward Dwayne Polee II: “We’re working on stopping their transition game. If we can, we’ll have a great chance of winning.”
Fisher said it was good to have that kind of confidence heading into a game like this.
“Our kids are all saying ‘we’re better than they are,’ “ Fisher said. “You have to have that mindset. Both teams try to do some of the same things: Guard hard, get into early offense, rebound well, and make it hard for the other team to score.”
UA beat SDSU 68-67 in the finals of last season’s Diamond Head Classic, in a showdown when the Wildcats were ranked third and 11-0 while San Diego State was 11-1 and ranked 17th.
This time, UA is ranked No. 6 and the Aztecs are unranked, though UA coach Sean Miller said they're an NCAA tournament team again.
“It was two really good teams (last season),” Fisher said. “They’re (rated) 5/6 now and we’re not rated. We’ve got a lot of moving parts we’re replacing but we feel we’re competitive and have a team that knows how to play. We’re glad we have them at home -- our crowd will be an immense help to us."
The crowd, including SDSU’s “The Show” student fan section, arguably helped the Aztecs beat Arizona 63-46 during Miller’s first year at Arizona in 2009-10.
Miller hasn’t been back since then, but he’s bringing a much more loaded team with him this time.
Where there was Jamelle Horne, there is now Aaron Gordon. Where there was Kyryl Natyazhko, there is Kaleb Tarczewski. And where there was Nic Wise as a combo guard playing the point, there is T.J. McConnell.
“Just because we have a better team doesn’t mean we’re going to win or play well,” Miller said. “This is our first road game. There’s not a lot of teams like us that, I believe, play on the road in November in a true road game. … You learn a lot about your own team but those are games that aren’t easy to win. We know that.”
Miller said it isn’t likely, after all, that freshman guard Elliott Pitts will redshirt this season, even though Pitts is not expected to be in the regular rotation and has missed a week with a sprained wrist.
Miller said Pitts will travel to San Diego State but still has yet to practice with “kind of a severe sprain.”
“He’s been out about seven days but has been working hard rehab-wise and I look for him to return back,” Miller said. “I don’t really at this point have an answer in terms of whether Elliott would redshirt or not but I think the odds of him redshirting are very slim to me. It’s leaning a lot towards his availability this year to where we can count on him.
“He’s practiced well and just looking at our team (and the possibility of) injury, foul trouble and (with) just continued competition and improvement, I can see where Elliott can be a real part of this.”
Wednesday is the first day of the fall signing period but only one of Arizona’s three 2014 commits is expected to sign a letter-of-intent right away.
Via text messages, forward Craig Victor of New Orleans told the Star he would sign Wednesday, but guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said he won’t do so until Saturday because his dad is out of town all week and wants him to sign when he returns.
In addition, Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College guard Kadeem Allen will not sign until Friday, according to Hutchinson assistant coach Jay Cyriac, who said Allen is waiting until his mother comes to watch him play this weekend and sign the letter.
The delays mean UA probably won’t officially announce its fall class, and have Miller comment on it, until at least this weekend when all the letters are in.
Miller said he is expecting to sign "four or five" players overall in the 2014 class by next spring. Top UA recruiting target Stanley Johnson has said he won't decide until after the fall signing period but Houston wing Justise Winslow may decide during the fall period after visiting Stanford.