Southern gets gauge at No. 1 Arizona

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Southern guard Malcolm Miller drives through Blue Mountain College forward Josh Sheppard during a Nov. 25 game in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Southern guard Malcolm Miller drives through Blue Mountain College forward Josh Sheppard during a Nov. 25 game in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.

The Southern men’s basketball team put together perhaps its most complete effort of the season in its last game.

But shortly after the Jaguars’ 107-64 trouncing of Dillard last Saturday, coach Roman Banks was cautious not to read too much into the performance.

“The effort was there,” Banks said, “but now we have to see how much of it was the effort versus the competition.”

Banks was referring to the Jaguars’ enormous step up in competition in going from the NAIA Bleu Devils to their game at No. 1-ranked Arizona on Thursday night. Tip-off is 7 p.m. CST.

“It’s a game that we actually look forward to,” Banks said. “I think it’s the type of game that sets the program’s standard, lets you know where you are. We like to think that we’re a growing basketball program and this is a whole other level. So we’ll get a chance to see.”

Southern (3-7) already has faced a challenging road schedule that has included trips to face Marquette, Middle Tennessee, Florida, Denver and Louisiana Tech, but this is clearly its biggest test yet before playing at Baylor on Sunday. The Wildcats are 11-0 after a 72-70 victory at Michigan on Saturday.

The Jaguars are expected to play their second consecutive game without forward Calvin Godfrey, who’s averaging 12.6 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds. Banks said Southern will be cautious in bringing Godfrey back from a hyper-extended elbow with an eye toward the long-term success of the season.

Arizona could also be missing a big man as center Kaleb Tarczewski, who’s averaging 10.1 points and 6.7 rebounds, might miss the game because of a sprained ankle.

As Southern gets closer to the start of Southwestern Athletic Conference play in two weeks, Banks is counting on his seniors to lead the way.

Forward Malcolm Miller returned to the starting lineup against Dillard after coming off the bench for three consecutive games.

His shooting problems continued, but he said he felt more confident in the second half when he made 5-of-10 shots, including both of his 3-pointers.

Center Javan Mitchell made his second consecutive start and had 14 points and three rebounds in 19 minutes. Guard Yondarius Johnson leads the Jaguars with an average of 13.8 points per game and Tre Lynch is averaging 10.1 off the bench.

“(Banks) told me that me and the other seniors have really got to set the tone,” Miller said. “He told me that he was going to put me back in the starting lineup and for us to get us going.

“It’s my senior year, and I want to feel like I’m leading my team and try to give us a spark and start us off well.”

Mitchell said Southern’s defense was much improved as it held the Bleu Devils to 40 percent shooting for the game and 28 percent as the Jaguars took a 47-27 halftime lead.

“Coach has been stressing from day one that we have to pick up our defense,” Mitchell said.

Banks said he was pleased with the Jaguars’ interior play. They outrebounded Dillard 46-37, had a 20-9 edge in second-chance points and a 59-32 advantage in points in the paint.

“We’ve been concentrating on making plays in the war zone, which is what we call the paint, whether it’s offense or defense, where the defense is getting the rebound and the offense is getting the and-one or the foul,” Banks said. “We’ve been concentrating on that quite a bit because good teams win those areas.”

Southern took advantage of the undersized Devils, whose tallest starter was 6-foot-5. The Wildcats, however, start 6-9 Aaron Gordon and 6-8 Brandon Ashley at forward, and Tarczewski is 7-0. If Tarczewski can’t play, his minutes likely will be divided between 6-7 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and 6-10 Matt Korchek.

“We don’t want to read too much into (the Dillard game),” Banks said. “But we want to take from it and grow from it.”

Former UNO coach Joe Pasternak, who played at Country Day, is Arizona’s associate head coach.