Arizona expects a severe test in its first true road game.
The third-ranked Wildcats are off to another unbeaten start and put their 38-game regular-season win streak over non-conference foes on the line Friday night when they visit UTEP.
Arizona (11-0) is rolling once again after starting with 21 wins a season ago. The Wildcats have won eight times at home along with three wins at the Maui Invitational.
“We no longer have our great crowd, it’s theirs,” coach Sean Miller said. “So we’re gonna be tested and we have to be ready.”
UTEP (6-3) expects a sold-out crowd as it looks to improve to 5-0 at home, where it already defeated a Pac-12 opponent with a season-opening 65-52 win over Washington State on Nov. 14.
Coach Tim Floyd knows it will be even more difficult to hand the Wildcats their first defeat. Floyd was an assistant to the legendary Don Haskins from 1977-86, when the Miners would host numerous high-profile opponents.
“In the ’80s, this was the way it was,” Floyd said. “It was either BYU rolling in, or Utah, UNLV, New Mexico, Georgetown and Michigan. It’s what I hoped for and envisioned when I came back here, that we would play in games that were relevant nationally.
“We’re very appreciative of Arizona coming over here to play because they don’t have to do that right now, where they are.”
The Wildcats are keying on slowing down UTEP top scorer Vince Hunter, who averages 16.2 points and leads Conference USA in field-goal percentage at 55.4. Hunter matched his career high of 26 points in Tuesday’s 80-62 win over Southeastern Louisiana.
Hunter, who has made 18 of his last 22 shots, was described by Miller as “a very, very good NBA prospect.”
Earvin Morris added a career-high 17 points for the Miners who have shot 61.0 percent in consecutive victories after connecting at 43.4 percent in losing their previous three games.
UTEP is very competitive, beating a Xavier team that is 8-2 and losing 68-65 to an unbeaten Washington team currently ranked 16th.
“They’re had some good wins already and they’re going to be ready to go,” Miller said. And if you were them, you would be ready to go. It’s a great opportunity and we have to be at our best on Friday night.”
The Wildcats cruised to a 101-64 win over Oakland on Tuesday, scoring more than 100 in a game that did not go to overtime for the first time in six seasons. Stanley Johnson led five Arizona players in double figures as the freshman matched a season high with 18 points.
Miller was able to be generous with playing time with no Wildcat logging more than 27 minutes as his club bolted to a 24-3 lead.
Point guard T.J. McConnell’s 10 assists fell one shy of a career high. He leads the Pac-12 in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.35.
The Wildcats haven’t dropped a non-conference regular-season game since falling 71-60 at Gonzaga on Dec. 17, 2011.
Arizona has captured the last three meetings with UTEP, winning 72-51 in the most recent one Nov. 15, 2012.