Fans can attend another home game and Arizona’s finances might be better off as a result, but the rescheduling of Thursday’s UA-Washington game to Jan. 25 at McKale Center will put the Wildcats at a competitive disadvantage.
The Huskies pulled out of a scheduled Pac-12 opener at McKale Center because of COVID-19 issues within their program. As a result, the Wildcats will now have to play three games in six days and host ASU on three days’ less rest than the Sun Devils.
Arizona will play at Cal on Sunday, Jan. 23 in an afternoon game, then return to Tucson via charter in the evening. The Wildcats will have one full day to prepare for Washington, which will be coming of a Jan. 23 game at Oregon.
The UA will then play Jan. 29 against an ASU team that will have had a full week off following its Jan. 22 game at Stanford.
Any other date during the season would have resulted in even more of a competitive disadvantage for the Wildcats, and Arizona was reluctant to reschedule the game a result. But the UA also wanted the home game, having reported an average of $400,000 per home game in ticket sales in pre-COVID-19 years.
Washington also backed out of a home game against UCLA on Sunday. That game will not be made up. Because the game was in Seattle, UCLA could refuse without losing any gate revenue, while the Huskies may not have wanted to play the fifth-ranked Bruins anyway.
Tickets for the original game between UA and Washington will be honored on Jan. 25. The school didn’t say if refunds are available, but directed ticket holders with questions to call the ticket office at (520) 621-2287.
The Jan. 25 UA-UW game will be televised on Pac-12 Arizona. No start time has been announced.
Getting seven full days between games can be a much-needed breather in February, especially for a banged-up team that’s deep into conference play, but not in early December.
The unbeaten Wildcats have everybody healthy, getting center Christian Koloko back from a sprained ankle in practice this week, and had plenty of momentum to keep going when they were scheduled to host Washington on Thursday — until the Huskies said COVID-19 issues would keep them from playing.
Oh well. Pretty much like everything in the COVID-plagued 2020-21 season, the Wildcats can’t do a thing about it.
“It is what it is,” UA associate head coach Jack Murphy said Friday. “I think part of us would have liked to have played last night, get back on the court and have that rhythm. But we weren’t able to. We have a busy month of December coming up so it’s not bad to regroup and then be ready to play Sunday.”
The Wildcats wound up taking Thursday off, then practiced Friday and are scheduled to practice at home Saturday before taking a charter flight to Oregon. They’ll play Oregon State (1-7, 0-1 Pac-12) on Sunday afternoon.
After that is when the Wildcats might need the rest. They’re scheduled to return to Tucson late Sunday night, then host a Wyoming team on Thursday that’s currently 7-0.
After that, there’s a road game at Illinois next Saturday, then two home games against respectable mid-majors Northern Colorado and Cal Baptist before a Dec. 22 showdown at No. 13-ranked Tennessee.
That’s six games, in four time zones, over an 18-day period leading up to Christmas break … which then flows straight into what appears to be the toughest possible conference road trip, playing at No. 5 UCLA and No. 20 USC to start the new year.
“It’s a daunting schedule,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd said, doing his best to avoid coachspeak as he said the Wildcats would do the best they could to win the December games.
“It’s going to be experiences this team needs,” Lloyd added. “You can use the old adage, ‘Oh, we’re gonna learn a lot about this team.’ Well, whatever. But this team is going to need those experiences because they’re going to serve them well as you get into your January, February, and hopefully your march to the postseason.”
But while Lloyd said “everything can be scary” when you’re playing your first conference game in a new job as head coach, he’s had little to fret about so far this season.
The Wildcats are 6-0, ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, are dominant inside both in rebounding and two-point field goal percentage (59.0) and remain first nationally in the ratio of assists to made field goals (73.8 %).
They’ve trailed in their six games by a grand total of 197 seconds, the lowest cumulative scoring drought in the country according to analytics site Evanmiya.com.
And they’re also apparently pretty easy to work with.
“The guys are great and they seem to be on board with everything,” Lloyd said. “When we tell them something’s important and we’ve got to work on this, they seem to understand that and make it a priority. So I’ve been I’ve been most proud of that.”
Lloyd said getting buy-in to his system has been a “day-to-day thing,” sometimes varying even by possession how many players are doing so. But overall, again, he expressed no big-picture worries with their behavior.
“To be honest with you, I’m most happy with the overall effort that they’ve played with,” Lloyd said. “I would put our effort probably a little bit ahead of our execution, which is a good thing.