Head coach Sean Miller was nervous about this game from the start, telling the media that Saturday’s game against Eastern Washington was “going to be quite a challenge.”
Miller wasn’t lying as the Arizona Wildcats had their first taste of adversity against the Eastern Washington Eagles when they found themselves down 43-38 at the end of the first half before rallying back and squeaking out a 70-67 win.
“We were very fortunate to win,” Miller said. “I thought it was a win that we earned. I don’t think they caved in or gave it to us in any way, shape or form. [Eastern Washington] were the team that I described. … I thought we wore them down a bit, and our defense was a big reason we won the game.”
EWU began the game 1-10 from the three-point line before ending the half making seven straight field goals and capping off a 13-4 run to close out the half. That momentum did not carry over for the Eagles as they missed its first seven shots coming out of the locker room and shot 25% from the field in the second half.
The game was tied at 62 with 3:18 left to play when freshman Azuolas Tubelis made a baseline jumper and went one of two from the free throw line to give the Wildcats a 67-62 lead. The Eagles had a chance to tie with 13 seconds left in the game but freshman Dalen Terry came up with a steal to close it out and push the Wildcats to 2-0.
“It was a close game; I give that team respect,” Terry said. “But at the end of the day, we still came away with the W. It was ugly, but we still got the good win.”
James Akinjo led the Wildcats in scoring with 15 points while Tubelis finished the game with 12 points and nine rebounds. Senior Ira Lee returned to the floor in his first game of the season after suffering a concussion and had seven points and eight rebounds.
This was Akinjo’s second time leading Arizona in scoring as he came off a 19-point scoring performance against Grambling State last week. Akinjo went 3/7 from beyond the arc against EWU and continued to prove that he is capable of being the team’s lead scorer.
“Playing with a guy like that … [Akinjo] is like a role model to me,” Terry said. “I just look at him, and he’s always telling me what to do and what to expect before the game. He’s been in college before, so he knows how to score and when to score. He’s really good at it, so I just know that when he’s on a roll, I just give him the ball.”
Foul trouble haunted the Wildcats for the second game in a row as redshirt sophomore Jordan Brown, who shined in his first game against Grambling State, hit the bench early when he picked up his fifth foul of the game with six minutes to play. Brown ended with five turnovers with six points and three rebounds.
Brown wasn’t the only Wildcat to find themselves with too many fouls as three Arizona players had three or more foul calls, including Ira Lee who had four — one of which was a technical foul after taunting an Eastern Washington player after grabbing a rebound.
“[Lee] has to control his emotions,” Miller said. “I don’t think he meant anything by it. Early in the season, game two, you know sometimes as a coach, you want them to just teach your players as well. … I don’t think he taunted as much as he maybe said ‘Hey, get the ball out of there.’ He didn’t do it towards the official, but again, [Lee] has to be smarter. That was two points that we gave them.”
Arizona had 19 personal fouls against Eastern Washington which Miller was very critical of following the game.
“College basketball is so much about running full speed and just falling down,” Miller said. “I’m not even saying that to complain, but we have to do a better job of drawing the charge ourselves … we have to join the party and flop. Run full speed, take fouls with our chest and slide in underneath. Any low post guy, when he turns, draw the charge and teach it because those are big plays. Those are turnovers on the offense, fouls on the other team’s best player, and a lot of times, it erases a basket."
Arizona returns to action Monday night at home against NAU, the second of a four-game slate over the next eight days.
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