PORTLAND, Ore. — Second seeded Arizona men’s basketball comfortably beat No. 15 seed Texas Southern 93-72 on Thursday, but the Wildcats weren’t very excited after the win despite a couple career performances.
In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Arizona (32-3) led by as much as 27 points and by 21 at the half, but scored as many points as the Tigers in the second half (39) and gave up 72 points in the game.
“What we talked a lot about during the game and after the game is we came into this tournament as a great defensive team,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “We were not that today. Not that, you know, the roof's caving in on us, but I think the point that we made is this tournament is unforgiving.”
The Tigers (22-13) shot 47.1 percent from the field, including 54.5 percent in the second half. Texas Southern’s bench outscored Arizona’s 23-9.
Arizona’s road to the Elite Eight got easier on Thursday, as the No. 3 seed in their region, Baylor, lost 57-56 to 14th seeded Georgia State in their second round game.
When asked about Baylor, Arizona forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said it’s a warning to play better.
“As you guys can see, we didn't play that well on defense,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “It kind of messes us up a little bit. We talked about it. We're going to focus on that part of the game. Offensively things will fall. Defense wins championships, so we have to be focused on that, be ready to play defense, get stops, grind it out.”
On Saturday, Arizona faces the winner of seventh seed VCU and tenth seeded Ohio State in the Round of 32.
Hollis-Jefferson scored a career-high 23 points despite being limited by four fouls, and grabbed 10 rebounds to get a double-double. The sophomore shot 7-for-9 from the field and 9-for-10 from the free throw line.
Again, Hollis-Jefferson focused on the defense after the game when asked about his career-high.
“Well, you know, it's always good to have a good night offensively,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “But as everyone knows, I'm a defensive player first and my mindset is to play defense. When we have a defensive night like that, it bothers me a lot — as I can say for our coach; as I can say for a lot of other players. My biggest thing is how to get the guys to be ready next time on defense.”
Eight Wildcats scored, including five in double-figures. Arizona forward Stanley Johnson tied his career-high of 22 points and had five rebounds.
Arizona never trailed after jumping out to a 15-2 lead.
“I think it's always positive when you get a great start to the game like that — not that you can get comfortable, but, you know, you can kind of settle into what you do well,” Johnson said. “I think we got a couple easy baskets early. I think Rondae was active early, which is always a benefit to us. We got it inside early. We got off to a good run.”
TSU guard Madarious Gibbs led the Tigers with 15 points. Texas Southern had four players score in double figures.
TSU coach Mike Davis said Arizona is definitely a Final Four team.
“They're a great basketball team,” Davis said. “With [the] size and athleticism that they have, it was kind of hard to compete with them. But we went out and fought our hardest and tried to do the best that we could do against the size and their athleticism.”
Arizona forward Brandon Ashley scored 14 points despite picking up four fouls and center Kaleb Tarczewski had 13 points despite first half foul trouble. Point guard T.J. McConnell scored 12 points to go with four assists and four steals.
However, guard Gabe York was the only regular to not score and the only Wildcat besides forward Matt Korcheck, who didn’t take any shots, to go without scoring.
“We have a balanced attack right now, which is great,” Miller said. “Inside, we're getting production from Ashley and Tarczewski. Obviously Rondae and Stanley tonight had big games. T.J. is right around double-figures. One guy who didn't score tonight, I don't think he necessarily played bad, but for whatever reason he didn't contribute like he's been, is Gabe York. Gabe has been a huge factor for us down the stretch.”
Follow James Kelley on Twitter.