Chico State basketball surprised Arizona’s 13,000 fans in Friday night’s exhibition battle against the 17 ranked program in division one. Chico State had University of Arizona on the ropes, holding the lead until early in the second half.
“Being a division two school going up against a powerhouse like Arizona, we knew we would be the underdogs,” Joshua Curls said. “ (With) that being said, we knew everyone on their side from the players, coaches and even the fans would be a little cocky and expect the game to be easy. We used all the noise and doubt as motivation to go out there and play hard for 40 minutes.”
Justin Briggs lead all scorers with an efficient 17 points, shooting 7-11 from the field and adding 12 rebounds. Calvin Geraci contributed 15 points and Isaiah Brooks was the leading assist man with seven on the night.
“It felt very familiar,” Briggs said. “It was my third time playing in that environment, so my main job was to get the anxiety and anxiousness out of my team so that we could compete. People aren’t going to expect much from us all year long because of the season we had last year. We are gonna have to earn all of our respect.”
The Wildcats were fortunate enough to take full advantage of a slow start from Arizona. They used their length and athleticism to slow the game down and force Arizona to guard them in the half court. They had an extra emphasis on defense in their game plan, leading to 12 forced turnovers on the night. They went into the half with the advantage 33-32.
“We believed that we could beat them and our starters did a great job of coming out and setting the tone early,” Curls said. “They played with urgency, moved the ball very well, and knocked down timely shots.”
The Wildcats maintained the lead for 5 minutes in the second half. They would be outscored by 10 points in the half with one of the best scorers in the country, Chase Jeter, finding his stroke late.
Chico shocked the crowd of nearly 13,000 people at the McKale center in Arizona and caught the attention of legendary coach Sean Miller. He commended Chico State’s length, depth and coaching in his press conference after the game.
“I give Chico State a lot of credit,” Miller said. “One thing about their roster, they may be one of the biggest teams in college basketball…They really have size at every position. They have size off the bench and are very well coached. That’s why we like to play them.”
They hope to take this experience, playing against a top division one program, into their first match-up Friday night against Seattle Pacific University.
“It’s definitely a big confidence booster knowing that we can compete with a good program like Arizona, but that doesn’t change the mindset for the season,” Curls said. We aren’t satisfied with any close loss. We’re going to keep working hard everyday in practice, and approach every game with the same mentality.”
Wesley Harris can be reached at [email protected] or @jiggy_wes on twitter.