One of the more anticipated matchups in No. 12 Arizona’s visit to No. 18 Baylor at Waco, Texas, on Saturday is the Wildcats’ freshman point guard sensation Nico Mannion facing the Bears’ 1-1-3 zone defense with solid perimeter defenders.
Guards Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler and wing player Mark Vital have combined for 32 steals, while forward Freddie Gillespie has 13 himself. They have set the tone for a defense that has forced opponents into 121 turnovers in seven games.
The matchup will be the first time Arizona (9-0) faces a Top 25 opponent this season. Baylor (6-1), which enters on a five-game win streak, has a victory over then-No. 17 Villanova in the Myrtle Beach Invitational Championship on Nov. 24.
Mannion — the MVP of the John Wooden Legacy, a tournament Arizona won over Wake Forest in the championship game — has better than a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio with 52 assists and 21 turnovers.
His backcourt mate, fellow freshman Josh Green, has 25 assists and only 11 turnovers. He is averaging 13 points and 5.3 rebounds a game.
In the three victories in the John Wooden Legacy, Mannion averaged 16.3 points and 7.3 assists while shooting 51.4 percent from the field. He added four steals.
“The first time I played with Nico, I knew he was going to be good,” Wildcats senior guard Dylan Smith said. “His IQ is off the charts. For his age, he is very advanced. He just sees the game differently than everybody, is good at making shots. I mean the kid can play.”
Butler, a sophomore, matches up well with Mannion and Arizona’s perimeter, averaging 19.4 points a game while shooting 51.7 percent from the field, including 52 percent from 3-point range.
He made a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight points in the first 4:30 minutes as Baylor jumped out to a quick 11-1 lead Tuesday in a 78-46 win over Maryland-Eastern Shore in Waco on Tuesday. The Bears stretched it to 22-3 on another 3-pointer by Butler.
“Jared is somebody that offensively, he’s really excelled,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We’re constantly helping him become elite on both ends. But offensively, he’s really been shooting the ball well. And four assists, zero turnovers, was outstanding as well.”
Baylor announced it will provide free entry to the game when the ticket office opens at 9 a.m. CT. The free admission comes on the same day that Baylor’s football team plays in the program’s first-ever Big 12 Championship game against Oklahoma at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which is two hours north of Waco. Both games start at 11 a.m. CT.
The Arizona-Baylor game marks the completion of a home-and-home series between the Wildcats and Bears. Baylor snapped Arizona’s 52-game nonconference home-court win streak with a 58-49 victory in Tucson a year ago.
Asked about his biggest takeaway of beating an ACC opponent in the John Wooden Legacy, Arizona coach Sean Miller said, “Confidence.
“You know it’s a long journey college basketball, and everybody here is graded by the months of November and December in a big way,” he added.
“Who you schedule, who you beat, and who you beat on a neutral court. We control our nonconference schedule — we do not control our conference schedule.”
–Field Level Media