The Arizona Wildcats have played their way into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA men's basketball...
Cats, Cowboys Clash on Thursday Night Stage
The UA faces the first of four nationally ranked opponents against seventh-ranked Oklahoma State.
The Arizona Wildcats head into Big 12 territory this Thursday for a rematch in Stillwater, Okla. with the seventh-ranked in the nation, the Cowboys.
Arizona gets an early measure of its offseason work against the Oklahoma State team that punctuated the 2010 season with a convincing victory over the Cats in December's Valero Alamo Bowl.
Thursday's game also marks the start of the front-loaded end of the schedule with a grueling "See You in September" string of opponents, with Stanford, Oregon and USC next in the queue.
Arizona and OSU both opened last Saturday, beating Div. II Northern Arizona University and Louisiana-Lafayette, respectively.
Thursday's game is also bound to offer more conjecture on whether the Pac-12 might expand further into a new super conference that would include OSU, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech.
And the game will feature two of the nation's best passing and receiving duos in UA's Nick Foles and Juron Criner against OSU's Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. The Cats' patchwork offensive line also will get a reality check trying to protect Foles against a Cowboy pass rush that notched five sacks against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Another question is whether Arizona's defense can effectively corral OSU running back Joseph Randall as well as they did when they held him to 72 yards in San Antonio. Last week, Randall ran for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
The Wildcats won a solid 41-10 victory Saturday over in-state rival Northern Arizona in front of 51,761 at Arizona Stadium. UA charged out of the gate quickly holding the Lumberjacks to three-and-out on defense and then engineered a 3-play, 54-yard, 47-second drive spearheaded by Foles' passing.
Despite a second-quarter lull, Foles kept up the pressure, finishing the game with a career-high five touchdown passes to five different receivers, 412 yards and no interceptions, completing 34 of his 42 throws for 81 percent. And senior wide receiver Juron Criner notched his seventh career 100-yard game going 151 yards on six catches, one for a score.
Foles hit three other receivers for their first-ever Arizona touchdowns: sophomore Richard Morrison, red-shirt freshman Austin Hill and senior Gino Crump.
The new and still-evolving offensive line accumulated 10 penalties for 74 yards, but the UA quick-strike passing attack made the most of its 62 plays, averaging 7.9 yards per play and a superlative 9.8 yards per pass attempts by Foles. Ironically, NAU held the ball for 13 minutes longer but couldn't find many scoring opportunities save for two drives in the second period.
UA's kicking game continued to show some difficulty with a missed field goal and missed point after touchdown by newcomer Jaime Salazar. Kickoff specialist John Bonano held NAU to one kickoff return and six touchbacks.
UA never turned the ball over and senior cornerback Trevin Wade grabbed his 11th career interception, tying him nationally with Anthony Wright at the Air Force Academy for most by an active player. Wade is one pick shy of joining several other Wildcats at 10th place for career interceptions.
Senior running back Keola Antolin is sometimes a forgotten weapon in the Wildcats' offensive arsenal as Foles and Criner receive much of the acclaim. But the workmanlike Antolin made key plays of his own, including a nifty 18-yard reception capped by a pylon-brushing dive into the end zone.
It was Antolin's third career touchdown catch to go with 21 scores on the ground. He has been a proven and versatile option, collecting 1,871 career rushing yards and 362 yards on 57 receptions. Antolin also is a preseason candidate for the Doak Walker Award, presented annually to the nation's top running back.
The UA may also have added an important weapon missing from its arsenal last year. Mid-year junior-college transfer Kyle Dugandzic punted three times, all of which landed inside the NAU 20-yard line, holding NAU to one return for four yards, no touchbacks and a fair catch.
Thursday's national telecast on ESPN will be the first of three straight for the Wildcats. The UA will host games against Stanford on Sept. 17, Oregon on Sept. 24 and UCLA on Oct. 20, all televised by ESPN.