GAME CAPSULE: #14 FAU vs #4 Arizona - December 23rd, 2023
What: #14 FAU (9-2) vs #4 Arizona (9-1)
When: Sat. Dec. 23rd, @ 3:00 PM EST
Where: T-Mobile Arena
Series: Second matchup. Wildcats won 75-62 over the Owls back in November 2008.
Radio: FoxSports 640
Live Stats: Here
Line: FAU +6.5
FAU at a Glance
Offense - 84 PPG, 51% FG, 38% 3PT
Defense - 68 PPGA, 42% FGA, 34% 3PTA
Rebounding - 37 RPG Owls, 32 RPG Opponents
Getting past a tough encounter with St. Bonaventure, the Owls should be well-prepared for a game that will tell a lot about their team's ceiling in regards to making another tournament run similar to last year.
They'll have their game against Arizona at Las Vegas, which is 2,400 feet above sea level. The last time FAU played a game at significant elevation was Nov. 10, 2021 against New Mexico at Albuquerque, where the elevation is 5,200 feet. May said the team flew out two days earlier than normal to get acclimated to the thin air. The plan provided sufficient conditioning even though the game turned into a 99-92 track meet won by the hosting Lobos.
May expects the game Saturday to be played in the 80s and said Monday the team would follow a similar preparation regimen.
“Without a doubt (elevation) has an effect, but we have a lot of bodies, a lot of guys who can push through it. There is a mental component. But yeah, we’ll get there early and do more than we usually do to get to our wind the day before the game, We’ll go a little lighter early in the week to save our legs and do more intense work two days prior. So hopefully our bodies acclimate,” May said.
He added wryly: “We’re in South Florida. There isn’t much we can do outside of flying into Colorado Springs and sleeping in oxygen chambers, and we’re not able to do that.”
Emerging victorious requires a collective effort from everyone on the team, especially on offense. They are 10th in the country in field-goal percentage by converting their shots at a 50.8% clip, so being careful and selfless with their shot selection should help the Owls in being crisp on offense throughout the afternoon.
Big performances will be needed from guards Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin, especially from the latter. Martin is shooting under 40% from the field this season as he is due for a standout game heading into Saturday afternoon. On the other hand, Davis has had excellent shooting splits of 47.5% from the field and 48.8% from downtown, meaning his ability to create shots at an efficient rate against the Wildcats' would be worth keeping tabs..
The Owls are at their best on both sides of the ball when center Vladislav Goldin is on the court for extended periods of time. He tops the country with an astounding field-goal percentage of 75.9% with averages of 15.1 points, seven rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game, so helping him not be hasty in picking up fouls early on will help FAU have the momentum throughout the course of the game.
Guards Nick Boyd and Bryan Greenlee (pictured above via Bob Markey II) could also play deciding factors to the Owls' guard play being even stronger. Boyd is one game removed from his return following a hamstring injury, and his ability to drive to the paint could present potential scoring opportunities for him and his teammates. As for Greenlee, his attentiveness to being a solid shooter from downtown will be put to the test, having made 38.5% of his three-point attempts so far this season.
After this contest, FAU will return to the state of Florida to prepare for their last non-conference game against Florida Gulf Coast on December 30th at 7:00 PM. The matchup will be broadcast on ESPN+.
Arizona Team Site: Here
Arizona at a Glance
Offense - 92 PPG, 51% FG, 38% 3PT
Defense - 68 PPGA, 40% FGA, 32% 3PTA
Rebounding - 44 RPG, 30 RPG Opponents
Arguably the biggest regular-season game in program history taking on a top-five ranked team for the first time ever, FAU wouldn't have seen their blockbuster matchup with Arizona come to fruition if it weren't for Dusty May and Tommy Lloyd seeing eye-to-eye with one another.
Lloyd is 70-12 in over two years at Arizona after the win over Alabama this past Wednesday. “Whatever his record is, he’s a better person,” said May, who is indebted to Lloyd for maneuvering the Wildcats’ schedule to make the game possible—and grateful for the reason he told May he would do so.
“We wanted to play (this game) in the worst way for a lot of reasons," May said. "National television, our guys wanted to be challenged, and we felt like we needed these games to elevate our program even more than a Final Four run.”
Arizona agreed to the game even the Wildcats' pre-conference schedule already included a road game at Duke, neutral court games with Michigan State and Purdue, and home games with Wisconsin and Alabama. Yet the Wildcats re-worked their schedule to accommodate FAU even it meant facing the Boilermakers, Crimson Tide and Owls all within eight days.
Lloyd told May he could identify with FAU’s desire to play marquee games and the difficulty top mid-majors face in securing them. Before taking the Arizona job in 2021, he spent two decades on staff at Gonzaga and was in the ground floor helping Mark Few elevate the 'Zags.
May said Lloyd told him, " ‘I remember those days, and how difficult it is to get games like this.’ They have a lot of respect for the way we go about things. (Lloyd said) ‘I would like to make it work.’ “
Arizona operates offensively much like Gonzaga, which makes it familiar to May, who said he’s incorporated concepts from Gonzaga in his own program from the beginning.
“In Year 1, Year 2, we really started diving in to their offense, the way they play the game, because we’ve had European centers and that was really their niche,” May said. “They were getting international players before they started getting McDonald’s All-Americans. We studied them and learned a lot by watching them, and actually passed a lot of the lessons to our players that we were learning from Gonzaga.”
Arizona are elite on both sides of the ball. They are first in the Pac-12 in points per game with 92.3 (second nationally), third in points allowed with 67.7 (104th), second in field-goal percentage with 50.7% (12th), second in three-point percentage with 37.7% (41st), first in rebounds per game with 44.3 (seventh), and first in assists per game with 21.1 (third).
Many eyes will be on star guard Caleb Love. He is averaging 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Being a deadly scorer, Love has a tendency in taking a lot of shots which results in him shooting 41.1% from the field on a team-high 124 attempts. Preventing him from heating up while forcing him to take heavily contested shots would be vital for the Owls keeping him in check throughout the game.
The battle of bigs will also be present for this contest, particularly FAU's Vlad Goldin and Arizona's Oumar Ballo. Ballo is coming off a 16-point, 12-rebound double-double against Alabama for his second of the season and 16th of his career, so Goldin will have his hands full when it comes to being at his best against the Wildcats.
FAU's perimeter defense has to be sharp against Kylan Boswell, the Wildcats' best three-point shooter. On 95 attempts, he knocks them down at a 47.4% clip, showcasing himself as one of the 10 best shooters from beyond the arc. Denying him the ball while constantly pestering him would benefit the Owls defensively.
With this being their last non-conference game, the Wildcats will begin conference play in the Pac-12 by taking on California on December 29th at 1:00 PM MST. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.