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Arizona Wildcats hoops opens season with Cal Poly

Augustana's Ben Shellim, left in front, dribbles pass the pressing defense of Arizona's Nick Johnson, right in back in the first half of an college exhibition basketball game, Monday, Oct. 28, 2013 in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/John Miller)

Don't sleep on Cal Poly. UCLA did in 2012 and got its 2012-13 season off to a disappointing start.

Last season the Mustangs averaged 64.8 points per game, 237th in the country. Their grind-it-out slow style might not have set scoring records, but it was efficient. Cal Poly finished the season with a NCAA Division I-low 302 turnovers. Its 9.4 turnovers per game were second-lowest, behind championship runner-up Michigan.

In retrospect, Arizona had 458 turnovers last year in 35 games the Mustangs played in 32 games.

Cal Poly lost two starters in guards Dylan Royer and Drake U'u. Senior forward Chris Eversley and senior guard Kyle Odister will be relied on to replace Royer and U'u's minutes, production and experience. Eversley led the team in points last season.

The Mustangs might run into trouble against the Wildcats because of their dependence on three pointers.

Cal Poly fell in love with the three-point shot in 2012-13, attempting 606 three-point field goals and making 227 of them for 37.5 percent.

The Mustangs' top three-point shooter from last season was Royer, who made 42 percent of his 196 attempted three-pointers. With Royer gone, fifth year head coach Joe Callero will have to lean on Odister to fill the void.

Tonight, Cal Poly will also be without point guard Reese Morgan. The junior was expected to start but will miss roughly the first half of this season because of surgery on his ACL during the offseason.

A lack of depth for the Mustangs will be a huge advantage for an Arizona team that is still searching for rotations.

Along with depth, Arizona has an advantage over Cal Poly in its frontcourt. The Mustangs feature starting center Brian Bennett, who stands at 6-foot-9 but brings little offensive production around the paint. In fact, Cal Poly finished last season as the Big West's worst shooting team from two-point range. If it wants to succeed at all in 2013-14, it will need to be more of a threat with easy baskets inside the paint.

Friday, expect the Wildcat big men to get plenty of opportunities to score close to basket. Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski presents a matchup issue with Bennett. The Mustangs overall had one of the worst field-goal percentage defenses in the country last season.

UCLA underestimated the efficiency and shooting ability of Cal Poly's offense, and because of it, the early-season loss to the Mustangs weighed on them the entire season.

While this year's Cal Poly team shouldn't be quite as dangerous from beyond the arc, the slow tempo efficiency of Callero's team has become a staple in the program. This should present an interesting matchup for a balanced Wildcats offense that has the athleticism to push the tempo and quickly score transition points off opposing team misses.

Who are the Cal Poly Mustangs?

2012-13 record: 18-14 (12-6 Big West) 2012-13 notable victories: 70-68 at No. 11 UCLA, 79-73 versus Long Beach State

Top recruit

Guard David Nwaba is a junior college transfer from Santa Monica College. While at Santa Monica, Nwaba was a Western State Conference South Division player of the year. He is expected to start as a third guard in the rotation. While with the Corsairs in 2012-13, Nwaba averaged 20.5 points per game to go with 8.8. rebounds and a shooting percentage of 55.3.

Players to watch for

Eversely's production increased dramatically throughout his entire junior season. As a senior, Callero will need him to continue to grow and become even more of a threat in the post. Eversely averaged 15.4 points and seven rebounds a game a year ago.

Wildcats' Brandon Ashley and Aaron Gordon are expected to match up against the 6-foot-7 power forward. Eversely was one of the few Mustangs who made most of his points from inside the arc.

UA head coach Sean Miller vouched for Ashley's improvement as a three-point shooter. Ashley might want to test that Friday night, as it could take Eversely out of his comfort zone on defense.

He said it

"A year ago they beat UCLA in the month of November," said head coach Sean Miller. "That shows that they have a lot of guys who are confident, because when you do that once you certainly feel you can do it again. We're well aware any team can beat us on our schedule this year."

Cal Poly projected starting lineup

F Brian Bennett, Soph.
F Chris Eversley, Sr.
G David Nwaba, Soph.
G Kyle Odister, Sr.
G Jamal Johnson, Sr.

This story was courtesy of the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

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