The Arizona Wildcats end their regular season with one last resounding winning opportunity, hosting the California Golden Bear Saturday afternoon at the McKale Center.
It will be senior day, and second-ranked UA (27-3, 17-2) would set the record for most wins in Pac-12 play with a win. He would also get to cut the nets to commemorate the conference title that was clinched Tuesday at USC.
Here’s what to watch for in the Wildcats’ final go-around before the playoffs begin:
Grandpa’s Last Ride
Justin Kier is the only senior on the Arizona roster, so this will be a solo celebration honoring the sixth-year player who is in his third school. It will also be his third Senior Day, having experienced such a ceremony at George Mason in 2020 and in Georgia last season.
“It’s definitely not something I thought would happen,” Kier said. “I cherish those moments because I had three teams to enjoy them with. And each group has been so special. So this one will hit very differently for sure.
Kier called the transfer to Arizona “the best decision I’ve ever made in my life”, and in doing so, he finally gave him a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, he said, it will well beyond.
“I love this coaching staff,” he said. “Coach Lloyd has done so much for me, and I think our relationship is building every day. Someone I can really have a conversation with, I feel like just me and his personalities click. That’s definitely someone I’m glad to have met and I’m glad I got to be coached by him, he’s taught me so much this year, on and off the pitch.
Coach Tommy Lloyd, who said Kier will start, believes Kier has a future as a professional in Europe because of his pace and quickness, as well as his ability to play both guard positions. Playing abroad will also mean a lot of traveling, but Kier’s penchant for tourism should play a part in that, even if for now it means being the butt of jokes from his teammates.
“They always make fun of me because I always have my phone turned off to take pictures and videos to send home because I’ve never been to the West Coast,” he said. “This is my first time in California, my first time in Arizona here. This will be my first time in Utah, Washington, Oregon, all of that. So these are just memories for me, Dude. It’s just amazing places. Great scenery. And I love that kind of stuff. I love taking pictures of seeing cool stuff.
As a sixth-year senior, Kier is at least three years older than most of his teammates.
“I call him Grandpa”, wing Shovel Larsson noted.
A McKale send for others?
Kier is the only Wildcat guaranteed to play his last game in Tucson, but it could also be the last home game for other UA players. Second year wing Benoit Mathurin is regularly listed at the top of the mock list NBA Draft boards—it is projected by NBC Sports go #11 at the Washington Wizardswhile NBADraftRoom.com it goes 10and to the Portland Trailblazers – and therefore appears to be a two-and-do lock, while the junior center Christian Koloko and second ahead Azuolas Tubelis could also head towards professional careers once this season is over.
Koloko is named as the No. 30 pick by Tankathon and #43 by NBADraftRoom. Tubelis isn’t on any draft board, but he could make his way to them with a solid walk, or he could choose to start his pro career in Europe (just like the second-year point guard Kerr Kriisa), although Lloyd’s euro-friendly system is perfectly suited to their skills and another year at university can only help in the long run.
McKale has very calm with just under four minutes left in Thursday’s 81-69 win over Stanford, when Dalen Terry took a hard fall on the ground and stayed on the ground for a while. He was eventually helped up and out of the field, not putting much weight on his right leg as he was escorted to the locker room, but returned to the bench before the game was over.
“He’ll be fine,” Lloyd said after the match, without specifying the nature of the injury.
With Arizona already holding the Pac-12 title and Cal (12-18, 5-14) not exactly a juggernaut – it lost 71-44 at ASU on Thursday – this could be the opportunity to lighten Terry’s load towards the Pac-12 Tournament. The same goes for Kriisa, who has played the past two games with KT tape on her left shoulder and also had her left wrist and thumb taped several times this season.
“Bumps and bruises,” Lloyd said.
Don’t be surprised if freshman Adama Ball enters the game early, as he did when Arizona won 96-71 at Cal on Jan. 23. Shane Nowell also had a career-high five points in that game.
Nowell hasn’t been available in recent games because of “some things we wanted to sort out behind the scenes,” Lloyd said, but he could play against Cal.