Arizona basketball tops UTEP thanks to depth
Balance and depth have been pointed to as the Arizona basketball team’s strengths.
On Thursday night, the Wildcats showed just how deep they were in a 72-51 win against UTEP at McKale Center.
“Tonight was a good win for our basketball team,” head coach Sean Miller said. “Anytime you play a team like UTEP … they’re as big and physical of a team as we’ll face.”
John Bohannon, the Miners’ top big man, was held in check by the Wildcats’ frontline. After scoring 17 points in UTEP’s season-opener, he finished with zero points on 0-of-3 shooting and fouled out, which helped the Wildcats obtain a 35-15 rebounding advantage.
“We really focused on him in practice,” freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski said. “We knew he was their best player. He liked to play off the post before he went into his shot … We pushed him out of the paint and then had the guards come in and help us out and get a few steals, that’s really what we did.”
But, depth of scoring was the name of the game for Arizona.
Eight Wildcats finished with six points or more, including a game-high 17 points from point guard Mark Lyons as Arizona improved to 2-0 on the season.
“Anybody can contribute on any given night,” Solomon Hill said.
“That’s what makes us special. Sometimes it’s not gonna be two guys who go out and get 20, everyone on our team are team players.”
Only two Wildcats scored 10 or more points, but at various points in the game, the UA had a different player (or players) take over.
The first half was led by Lyons, mixed with a little bit of Grant Jerrett and deadly accurate 3-point shooting.
Lyons had 11 points and three 3-pointers in the first half, while Jerrett hit two treys within the first three minutes of the game, helping Arizona to a 35-22 lead at the intermission. The Wildcats hit 8-of-13 threes at that point, although they slowed down a bit in the second half, attempting just five and converting on one of them.
Miller said that is more a byproduct of avoiding taking bad shots and an emphasis on getting the ball down low than anything else.
“We are talking constantly of not taking ill-advised threes,” Miller said. “We want to be an inside team and we want to take great threes, not just threes for the heck of it.”
To open the second half, Hill scored seven of Arizona’s first 14 points to give the UA a 15-point lead with 13:51 remaining.
UTEP started chipping away at the Wildcats’ lead though, for a bit. After stretching that lead to 17 points with 13:03 on the clock, the Miners brought it within eight points at the 7:48 mark.
Then, forward Brandon Ashley took over for the UA.
The freshman scored eight of Arizona’s next 13 points on two free throws and three field goals, ending the game on a dunk with 52 seconds remaining for the final 21-point win-margin.
Ashley finished with nine points on 3-of-8 shooting, five rebounds and a block.
“I thought Brandon Ashley played a great game for us,” Miller said. “He played well in spurts in the opener, but he was more complete tonight. He’s aggressive and he finished on offense.”
Turnovers and personal fouls were a concern for Arizona, though, as they tallied 19 in each category against 14 assists, but Miller believes that speaks to what the Wildcats are capable of more than anything.
“It’s a shame because we had eight turnovers against Charleston Southern and we follow that up with 19 here tonight,” Miller said.
“When you score 72 points and have 19 turnovers the good news is I think it shows you what I think our upside can be on offense. If we would have had 12 to 13 turnovers instead of 19, the points we would’ve scored would’ve been more in the 80s.
“Give the opponent credit because a lot of the turnovers we had were forced by a good defense.”