After having nine days without a game, Arizona will get back to action against one of its in-state foes, Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks (2-3) are being welcomed into McKale Center on just four days worth of rest, after finishing 1-3 in the Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas.
So far this season, the Lumberjacks have had some issues winning games. NAU started the season with three road games, including one against Oregon and UNLV. The game with the Ducks was close, netting a ten-point loss, but the matchup with the Running Rebels didn’t yield as favorable results as the Lumberjacks lost by 38. Taking a break from the Global Sports Classic, the Lumberjacks beat UC-Davis on the road in a 85-82 victory.
Finishing up the preseason tournament, Northern Arizona split the final two games played in Las Vegas with a close loss to Jacksonville State and a win over Campbell.
Part of the Lumberjacks’ struggles can be placed on the fact that they are transitioning under new and first-time Head Coach Jack Murphy. His name may sound familiar to Wildcat fans as he was previously on staff at Arizona from 1998-2006, during which the Wildcats won three conference titles. Murphy came to NAU to take his first ever Head Coach position after spending the last three years as an assistant under Josh Pastner at Memphis.
Even with the early season woes, NAU expects to come to Tucson and put up a fight. Senior guard Gabe Rogers leads the Lumberjacks with a team-high 16.6 points per game. However, he is still lacking with his ball control skills, as he is dishing out 2.4 assists to 3.4 turnovers per game.
Joining Rogers in the backcourt is fellow senior Michael Dunn. The 6-foot guard has been playing solidly for the Lumberjacks, putting up just under six points in 29 minutes each night. Dunn has been a key for the offense with the ball flowing through him when he is on the court. He is getting 2.8 assists and four rebounds per contest.
With two seniors getting starting nods, the most talented guard on the roster is a freshman. Dewayne Russell, a 5-10 point guard, has shined since putting on the NAU uniform. Averaging 15.8 points and four assists each time out, he has burst onto the scene for the Lumberjacks. Russell is a player to watch, specifically for his play making capability and being able to score for himself while making his teammates better.
With three guards starting, the Lumberjacks complete the first five with two forwards, Gaellan Bewernick and Ephraim Ekanem. Bewernick is only a sophomore, but has become the team’s third leading scorer, putting up 7.2 points in 28 minutes of action. His main worth is underneath the basket as he is averaging a team-high six rebounds.
Ekanem is the tallest Lumberjack starter at 6-foot-7. His numbers are modest, as he only plays fifteen minutes a game and scoring just over five points while grabbing about 2.5 rebounds a game.
Although senior guard Stallon Saldivar has started in two games this season, it is likely that he will come off the bench to give some much needed rest to the other guards. In twenty minutes of action per game, he is averaging 3.8 points, 2.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds. Saldivar is a key sixth man, who could trouble the Wildcats if he is taken too lightly.
Another face that has seen the starting rotation, although just once, is junior forward Max Jacobson. At 6-foot-8, 230-pounds, he is the biggest body to see the floor for the Lumberjacks this season. He has played in all five games this year, earning over eighteen minutes each night by contributing 5.8 points and 3.6 rebounds.
Two other freshmen have also cracked the rotation for NAU. Blake Hamilton and Jordyn Martin are each playing over ten minutes a game and doing their best to help the team win. Both are forwards, but Martin is two inches taller, standing at 6-foot-7. Together, they are scoring almost ten points a game. Hamilton is grabbing just a single rebound, but Martin is doubling that with two each time out.
The game shouldn’t be one that tests the Wildcats, but stranger things have happened. Most of the Lumberjacks' shots should come from either Rogers or Russell and if Arizona can key in on them defensively, it should make things difficult for NAU.
Arizona also has a size advantage in yet another matchup with Northern Arizona’s tallest player being Jacobson. It should allow the Wildcat big men to have an easier time attacking the paint and grabbing a few extra rebounds.