Arizona basketball pulls off 63-55 win despite lackluster performance
The play was sloppy and the shots weren’t falling, but the No. 8 Arizona men’s basketball team escaped McKale Center on Tuesday night with a 63-55 victory over Southern Mississippi.
Arizona (6-0) has rarely been tested through the non-conference portion of its season, winning by an average of 24.6 points per game and rolling to a perfect 5-0 record. But Tuesday night was a different story.
The Golden Eagles’ 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. But seniors Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill stepped up to hit two crucial threes while the defense clamped down, and the Wildcats escaped with the victory thanks to a 14-4 run to close the game out.
“I think this game proved that … [while] we have a lot of talented freshmen, there’s going to be games like that down the road where we need seniors, including myself, to win games like that,” Parrom said.
The normally deep Wildcats only played seven players the majority of the game and, especially at the end, it was the experienced players who made the win possible. Sophomore Nick Johnson led the team with 23 points on 9-for-14 shooting and Parrom was the only other Wildcat to score in double-digits, adding 14 points as well as 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, and it only got worse. The Wildcats finished with 27 turnovers. The smaller Golden Eagles pounded the glass all night, and while they lost the rebound battle by seven, Southern Miss grabbed 15 offensive boards in the game.
“Anytime you have 27 turnovers and you’re a good team and playing at home, it’s unacceptable,” head coach Sean Miller said.
“Having said that, to be able to win and have those turnovers, that’s a completely different story.”
The zone defense of Southern Miss confused Arizona early on, and while the Wildcats eventually got past their “deer in the headlights” look in the first half, as Miller described it, the turnovers didn’t stop. What helped was that Arizona forced the Golden Eagles into 17 turnovers of their own in the half, leading to a sloppy but back-and-forth game in the final minutes.
“The kind of zone they played, they wanted to speed us up and I think they did a good job at that,” Parrom said. “In the first half, we were panicking, I think, when they were pressuring us. In the second half, we wanted to take better care of the ball, and I think we did that.
“We’re going to hear it in practice — 27 turnovers, I don’t think since I’ve been here we’ve had 27 turnovers.”
The normally sharp-shooting Wildcats made 19 of 42 shots, well below their season shooting average of 52.3 percent, which was fifth best in the nation. Point guard Mark Lyons was especially bad, missing all seven of his shots from the floor.
While Lyons is a senior, it was the veterans from Arizona’s past that really made the difference. Along with Johnson and Parrom, Hill had nine points, with none bigger than a three-pointer he drilled with 1:49 remaining in the game. The basket put the Wildcats up six, their biggest lead of the game to that point, and essentially sealed the victory.
While the shots might not have fallen, the Wildcats did find some luck in the game — as well as create their own. The Golden Eagles’ leading scorer, senior Dwayne Davis, didn’t play after being taken out during warm-ups. Davis came into the game averaging 15.1 points per game, but his lack of production was offset by the strong defensive effort and a scoring outburst by guard Neil Watson who had 17 points on the night.
“We’re kind of a young team right now … but we have senior leadership and as we go through more games like this I think every game we’re going to take steps forward and we’re going to get better,” freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski said.