FINAL: No. 8 Arizona 63, Southern Mississippi 55
Things looked bleak at times for the No. 8 Arizona men’s basketball team, but thanks to a 14-4 run to close the game, the Wildcats walked away with a 63-55 win against Southern Mississippi Tuesday night at the McKale Center.Arizona had rarely been tested through the first part of its season, winning by an average of 24.6 points per game and rolling to a perfect 5-0 record. Tuesday night was a different story.
The Golden Eagle’s stifling defense kept Southern Miss in the lead for most of the first half and with less than five minutes left to play in the game the score was tied 51-51.
Senior Kevin Parrom broke the deadlock with a three-pointer at the 4:45 mark. The shot proved to be a crucial for the Wildcats as a mixture of sloppiness and solid defense by both sides kept the score at 54-51 until another senior, Solomon Hill, hit a deep three of his own.
The shot gave Arizona a six-point lead, its biggest up to that point and after taking care of the game at the line, the Wildcats escaped their first challenge of the year. The UA finished the game on a 14-4 run to close it out.
Sophomore Nick Johnson led the Wildcats with 23 points of 9-for-14 shooting and had four assists. It wasn’t all good for Johnson, though, as the normally mistake-free guard committed six turnovers on the night.
Johnson also struggled from the line, but hit two huge ones for the Wildcats with 44 seconds left to put the lead back up to eight. Parrom, who also played a big role at the end of the game, was the only other Wildcat to reach double digits with 14 in the game and eight rebounds.
The tenacious Southern Miss defense forced mistakes early and often as Arizona turned the ball over six times in the first seven minutes of the game. The sloppiness continued throughout the game as the Wildcats had 27 turnovers on the night.
Arizona high-powered offense had been one of the strongest in the nation entering Tuesday night, scoring 85.2 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting, the fifth best clip in the country. The shots weren’t falling against Southern Miss, though, as the Golden Eagles forced Arizona to shoot 19-for-42 overall and 6-for-20 from beyond the arc. Previously the Wildcats had made 43.8 percent of their threes on the season, the fifth best mark in the season.
The Golden Eagles gave the Wildcats their first double-digit deficit of the season when guard Neil Watson’s late three-pointer but his team up 11. Johnson answered with a buzzer beater three of his own to cut Southern Miss’s lead to just eight at half.
The Golden Eagles leading scorer, senior Dwayne Davis, didn’t see the court tonight after being taken out during warm-ups. Davis was a Conference USA first-team selection last season and came into the game averaging 15.1 points per game, but Southern Miss made do without him thanks to a strong defensive effort and 17 points from Watson on 7-for-15 shooting.