Arizona’s Jawann McClellan watched and could do nothing about the Wildcats being manhandled by the North Carolina Tar Heels last season while on the road.
The game of the year turned into the dud of the year for the Cats, who were already reeling from a bad season and team discord.
“It was emotional,” junior McClellan said of that afternoon in the Dean Dome, where he witnessed an 86-69 whipping while sitting on the bench with a knee injury. “I was mad thinking about how the season was going. All I said last year was that we’ll get them when they come back here.”
At 11 a.m. Saturday at McKale Center is the time to prove it.
The Cats know it won’t be easy knocking off the No. 4 Tar Heels, a team many think has the potential to get to the Final Four.
And the Cats have been hearing it can’t be done because UA hasn’t played its best basketball the past three weeks, losing four of six games. UA did snap a three-game losing streak by beating Arizona State on Wednesday.
“A lot of people are counting us out, but we have to go out and prove we can do it,” McClellan said. “We have to execute and knock down open shots.”
Sounds easy enough, but it isn’t. Wednesday did help a bit. After shooting under 50 percent for five consecutive games, Arizona reached 50 percent Wednesday. But ASU isn’t UNC.
Yet facing Atlantic Coast Conference teams hasn’t been a problem for Pac-10 teams. The Pac-10 has had a winning edge over every conference it’s faced this season and is 2-1 against the ACC. UA is the only team that lost (Virginia).
“They (experts) say the Pac-10 is the best conference, but the ACC is up there,” McClellan said. “It’s going to be a great matchup. We’ll execute and we have to keep them off the boards.”
Last year, UA couldn’t do that. UNC won the battle 38-30. And UA didn’t have an answer for big and rugged 6-foot-9 forward Tyler Hansbrough, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds.
“That’s last year,” UA’s Mustafa Shakur said. “(This) is a different team all around. We’ll be ready for it, especially with Jordan Hill playing so well.”
At least Hill adds help off the bench, as will Bret Brielmaier,who is expected to return to the team after having knee surgery three weeks ago.
“It’s something we’ve been looking forward to,” Shakur said. “It’s obviously a big game for us. We’ll be up for the test.”
Mohamed Tangara is out indefinitely after suffering a frontal sinus fracture in Wednesday’s game.
Tangara, a 6-foot-9, 241-pound forward from Bamako, Mali, was injured during the first half of Wednesday’s 71-47 win over Arizona State. He is averaging 0.4 point and 0.6 rebound per game for the season.
It’s UA’s experience vs. North Carolina’s youth. Can UA senior Mustafa Shakur outplay fellow ex- Philadelphia area star Wayne Ellington, a freshman. You’d think so. And can UA’s Jawann McClellan have another successful game? UNC frosh Ty Lawson is tough. Edge: Even
UA’s Ivan Radenovic has been overworked, particularly against big guys. He’ll have his hands full with UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough, one of the country’s best big men. Expect UA to use Radenovic on the perimeter more and Marcus Williams to have a solid game after his suspension. Edge: UNC
UNC likes to mix up its defense. It does it very well, too. UA hasn’t played defense that well the past two weeks, save for its game against mediocre Arizona State. This is a major step up. UA will have to extend its zone and stay away from fouls when it goes to the man-to-man. Edge: UNC
Don’t forget how much the home-court advantage is. UA always gets up for these types of games. My prediction at the beginning of the season was a UA win. I’ll stick with it. UA plays great, hits shots. UA by 5.