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Cats fend off Bucs

Sunday’s season opener for twelfth-ranked Arizona was a struggle for 40 minutes. However, Arizona did enough to fend off visiting Charleston Southern to win, 82-73. The victory kept Sean Miller perfect as a coach in openers as Miller is now a perfect 9-0 in the first game of the year as coach at both Xavier and Arizona.

A 3-Pointer by Kevin Parrom with just over two minutes to play put the Wildcats up, comfortably, 80-66.

The Wildcats (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) used a late 7-0 scoring run to take a 43-39 lead heading into the locker room after opening the game down 11-3 to the Buccaneers. Arlon Harper, who led all scorers with 20 points, scored 11 in the first half and was hot from the floor early as CSU jumped out to leads of 6-0, 11-3 and 15-7 before Arizona began to mount its comeback.

The score was even at 47-47 with 15 minutes remaining in the contest before the Wildcats started to take full control of the game. Solomon Hill hit a 3-Pointer to put Arizona ahead 50-47, but moments later picked up his fourth foul on a questionable call by the official. Without Hill on the floor, Arizona turned to senior guard Mark Lyons and freshman power forward Brandon Ashley to carry them down the stretch.

Lyons led Arizona with 17 points, including several key buckets in the closing minutes to keep CSU ((0-2, 0-0 Big South) at bay. Lyons also had six assists and no turnovers in his first game in a Wildcat uniform.

Ashley came up for big for Arizona as well, scoring 12 points to go along with a team-high eight rebounds and two blocked shots.

Arizona never looked comfortable Sunday as CSU employed a variety of zone defenses to try and slow down the Wildcat offense. Still, the Wildcats were patient enough to score 27 baskets on an eye-popping 25 assists. If that’s not impressive enough, Arizona’s 25 assists served to produce a steady three-to-one assist to turnover ratio as the Wildcats only turned the basketball over eight times.

Nick Johnson matched Lyons with a team-high six assists. Johnson, Arizona’s athletic shooting guard, also scored 12 points while pulling down three rebounds.

Arizona looked as if it was going to break the game open on several occasions, only to be brought back down to earth by a big shot or play by the Buccaneers. With just over six minutes to play, a Lyons 3-Pointer put Arizona up, 65-57. However, on CSU’s ensuing possession Saah Nimley hit a trey of his own to pull the Bucs back to within five points at 65-60.

The Bucs eventually did wear down, though, as Arizona pulled away late to lead by as many as 14 points before finally closing CSU out, 82-73.

Arizona, as a team, shot 45 percent from the floor, making 27-of-60 field goals. CSU connected on 22-of-50 shots (44%). The shooting percentages were similar as well from behind the arc as the Wildcats finished 11-for-32 from 3-Point land while the Bucs knocked down 10-of-28 three pointers.

Interestingly, the Bucs took a 15-13 rebounding advantage into the locker room and maintained its edge on the boards for the game at 30-29. In what proved to be a highly competitive game, Arizona’s efficiency in protecting the basketball while creating assists on all but two scores proved too much for CSU to overcome.

Follow me on Twitter @GaryRandazzo, and follow the website @WSRArizona. Post Game Commentary VIP article to post Monday morning.

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