NAU game recap: Arizona comes back with a bang
Larry Hogan / Arizona Daily Wildcat
The No. 9 Arizona men’s basketball team hadn’t played for 8 days coming into Wednesday’s game against Northern Arizona, but the rust was nowhere to be seen as the Wildcats jumped out early and dominated late to comfortably beat their northern rivals the Lumberjacks 93-50 at the McKale Center.
“We were definitely ready to come out and play,” sophomore guard Nick Johnson said. “In the first half we let in a few easy buckets, but we were definitely ready. [Eight] days off we were definitely going to come out and play our hardest.”
Arizona (4-0) opened the game with a 9-0 run on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting from the field and never led by fewer than double digits after taking a 20-9 lead midway through the first half. NAU still had a puncher’s chance going into the locker room, trailing 39-26 at the intermission, but Arizona again came out hot and the game got out of hand in front of the crowd of 13,003.
“I really think the story of tonight’s game was more about our second half than it was about our actual game,” head coach Sean Miller said.
The Wildcats outscored NAU 54-24 in the final period and limited the Lumberjacks to 9-for-29 shooting. Arizona, meanwhile, was efficient inside and lethal from deep throughout the game, going 30-for-52 overall and 21-for-28 from three.
“Whoever the shooting coach is, I need to pick his brain,” Lumberjacks’ head coach Jack Murphy said. “They hit a lot of shots; they did a great job from the perimeter.”
Seniors Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill lead the Wildcats with 18 and 17 points respectively, and the Wildcats’ depth played a huge role. Arizona’s bench outscored NAU 40-24 with sophomore center Angelo Chol adding a career-high 10 points in 13 minutes of play.
“The depth that we have, whether it be on the inside or the perimeter, seemed to take its effect,” Miller said, “so I was really pleased with our defensive effort in the second half.”
But the silent star of the game was sophomore Nick Johnson. The young shooting guard was a big factor in Arizona’s quick start with five early points. He finished with 10 points in the game on 3-for-3 shooting, but made his impact in other ways.
“I thought Nick Johnson played just a tremendous all-around game,” Miller said.
Johnson dished out seven assists with just one turnover and he caused havoc all night on defensive end. He was the primary defender on NAU’s Gabe Rogers, the Lumberjack’s second leading scorer coming into the game. Rogers was limited to just seven points on 3-for-11 shooting, including 1-for-5 from three, and he was held scoreless in the second half.
Johnson said he felt he played well defensively tonight and was able to create so many turnovers simply by staying with his man.
“The last few games I lost my man a little bit and all hell broke loose,” Johnson said. “Just being disciplined on defense, knowing when to go for him, when to jump the passing lanes and stuff like that.”
Arizona’s size down low also factored into the blowout — the Wildcats outrebounded NAU 39 to 27, with forward Brandon Ashley grabbing 11 boards of his own. Ashley, Arizona’s leading scorer entering the game, was limited to two points on 1-for-4 shooting.