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No. 4 Arizona, No. 14 Florida Atlantic clash in Las Vegas

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No. 4 Arizona will wrap up a challenging stretch on Saturday in Las Vegas against No. 14 Florida Atlantic, which will be playing perhaps the biggest regular-season game in school history.

FAU (9-2) is coming off a Final Four run and started this season at No. 10 in the Associated Press poll. The Owls have played then-No. 12 Texas A&M (96-89 win) and then-No. 20 Illinois (98-89 loss), but this kind of high-profile nonconference matchup is unprecedented for Florida Atlantic.

“We wanted to play it in the worst way for a lot of reasons,” FAU coach Dusty May said. “National television. Our guys wanted to be challenged. They love the challenge. And we felt our program was at a point where we needed these games to elevate even more than a Final Four run.”

May added about Arizona and third-year coach Tommy Lloyd: “This game … they didn’t have to do this.”

But Lloyd also wanted to challenge his players, and for the Wildcats (9-1), this ends a nonconference gauntlet that started with a win at then-No. 2 Duke on Nov. 10. Arizona also has beaten ranked Michigan State and Wisconsin squads, and its only loss came to then-No. 3 Purdue in Indianapolis last Saturday. The Boilermakers then replaced Arizona at No. 1 in the rankings.

The Wildcats bounced back with a fast-paced 87-74 victory over Alabama on Wednesday in Phoenix. Center Oumar Ballo had one of his best games of the season with 16 points and 12 rebounds, and he drew 11 fouls.

“He’s definitely an incredible force out there,” Lloyd said. “He impacts the game at both ends on the floor. He’s just this physical force of putting his body on guys in the paint and that just wears them out.”

FAU will try to counter Ballo with 7-foot-1 Vladislav Goldin, who is averaging team highs with 15.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He leads the nation with a 75.9 shooting percentage. Johnell Davis averages 14.5 points and has made 20 of 41 3-pointers.

The Owls brought almost everyone back from last season and have one of the most efficient offenses in the county, ranking eighth according to kenpom.com.

“They’ll probably try to take away our 3-point shots,” May said of Arizona, “because that has been the scout against us for years.”

Arizona is sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency and teems with scoring options. All five starters average at least 11.7 points, led by Caleb Love at 15.5 points. Keshad Johnson is next at 13.6 points and a team-best 6.9 rebounds, while Ballo is at 12.9 and 6.8.

KJ Lewis and Jaden Bradley bring defensive intensity off the bench, and Lewis, a freshman, is an athletic, slashing wing who scored nine points against Alabama.

“We have a freshman who’s going down the lane and making tough, tough contested layups in traffic,” Lloyd said. “It’s really special.”

While the Wildcats have traveled from Indianapolis to Phoenix to Las Vegas in a week, the Owls have been off since beating St. Bonaventure 64-54 in Springfield, Mass., on Dec. 16.

“I would like to think the extra prep time will help us,” May said. “For this point in the season, we’re healthy and we feel like we’ve learned a lot about ourselves.”

–Field Level Media

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