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Wildcats ride 57-point second half to victory in season opener

Amy Bailey | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona forward Chase Jeter (4) dunks the ball in the net during the second half of the Arizona-Houston Baptist  game at McKale Stadium on Nov. 7, 2018 in Tucson, Az.

A portion of the basket in McKale Center had to be replaced before tipoff, causing a short delay. The way both teams opened the game Wednesday night, that may have been a sign.

Arizona men's basketball overcame a sloppy first half that saw the 'Cats turn the ball over 11 times and shoot 38 percent from the floor to beat Houston Baptist 90-60 in the first official game of the year for the Wildcats. 

The Wildcats were once again paced by the two Brandons, as Randolph and Williams led the team in scoring with 25 and 13 points, respectively.

Wildcat Brandon Randolph (5) takes a free throw after being fouled in the first quarter of the Arizona-Houston Baptist game at McKale Stadium on Nov. 7, 2018 in Tucson, Az.

“My teammates are finding me in my spots,” Randolph said. “They know where I can score.”

Randolph credits playing against guys like Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins every day in practice for the improvement of his game from last season to this year. 

“They taught me that I needed to get stronger and take smart shots,” the sophomore said.

Head coach Sean Miller has noticed the improvement as well. 

“He’s growing,” Miller said. “Sometimes, that jump from freshman to sophomore year is significant. He’s still going to keep getting better, because it’s the beginning of his sophomore year, but definitely he has been a night spot on our team with the way he has scored.”

The Wildcats held only a nine-point lead to end the first half, but they used a 17-2 run in the second half to put the game out of reach for good. Arizona was much less sloppy with the ball, only turning over twice after halftime.

“We did a much better job of taking care of the ball in the second half than the first,” Miller said. “As a team we did a better job of making good decisions and finishing drives. They fouled a lot, and in the second half we made our free throws.”

Chase Jeter also chipped in with a double-double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 10 rebounds on 4-5 shooting from the floor.

 “I think the way he thinks and his mobility, that’s his strength,” Miller said. “We have to develop as a team the ability to get him the ball in scoring position for jump hooks and two point shots. He hasn’t really been with our team a lot the last couple weeks, because he’s been injured. That’s what you develop when a guy is playing everyday.”

Wildcat Chase Jeter (4) jumps to grab the ball during the second half of the Arizona -Houston Baptist game at McKale Stadium on Nov.7, 2018 in Tucson, Az. Wildcats won 90-60.

Arizona was able to finish the game shooting 49 percent from the floor, including a much better 59 percent the second half. The 'Cats were also 28-36 from the free throw line, capitalizing on being in the bonus much of each half. The Wildcats out-rebounded Houston Baptist by 10, even without Ira Lee, who was serving a one-game suspension for a code of conduct violation.

The Arizona defense also held its own. Houston Baptist made just 32 percent of its shots, including 23 percent from three. The Wildcats were able to force 12 turnovers and limited the leading returning scorer for the Huskies in Ian Dubose to 2-13 shooting with four points.

Not all was good for the Wildcats, however. Arizona was not particularly efficient from three-point range, going 6-22. The Wildcats also only had 13 assists on the night, with Williams leading the way with five to go along with zero turnovers. 

“Playing in a game like that against that type of pressure, that’s a job well done.” Miller said of his freshman. 

Arizona returns to the court Sunday, facing off against visiting Cal Poly at 3 p.m. 

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