Arizona will take on “the second-best team in the ACC” in tonight’s semifinal round of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats (10-0) will play Miami (8-1) at 9:30 p.m. Tucson time on ESPN2.
The Hurricanes defeated host Hawaii 73-58 on Saturday night for the seventh consecutive victory.
Miami takes a backseat to only one team in its league, Arizona coach Sean Miller said in his postgame radio interview on 1290-AM (KCUB) after the Cats beat East Tennessee State 73-53.
“I think it’s Duke No. 1 and Miami No. 2,” he said.
“They lost one game this season, and that was with their second-best player unable to play in the game. Since he’s been back, they have been able to really play excellent basketball.”
Miami lost to Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 13 when guard Durand Scott (a team-best 16.3 points per game) was still serving a six-game suspension for receiving impermissible benefits. Scott, who earned All-ACC honors last season, missed the final three games of last season and the first three of this season.
Arizona catches a break, though, as it is not expected to face Miami senior big man Reggie Johnson (6-10, 292 pounds) who suffered a thumb injury in practice on Friday. Johnson is averaging 12.6 points and 10.1 rebounds.
Julian Gamble filled in vs. Hawaii and he dominated down low, too, with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
Miami isn’t nearly as deep as Arizona, but the Hurricanes — who have wins over Michigan State and Charlotte this season — still have an excellent core of about six players without Johnson. Sophomore point guard Shane Larkin — the son of former baseball All-Star Barry Larkin — is one to watch. He is averaging 14.4 points and 3.7 assists per game.
“The thing that they do great is handle and take care of the ball,” Miller said. “That’s the thing right now that is really a concern for our team.”
Arizona enters Sunday as one of five unbeaten teams in the country but with a shaky strength of schedule that includes only one marquee victory — Florida. With Miami tonight and the potential to face San Diego State in the final on Christmas Day — the Aztecs take on Indiana State in the other semifinal — the Wildcats will further back up their high national ranking.