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Cats survive Tuesday tussle

Arizona found itself in a good old fashioned cat fight Tuesday night in Tucson against visiting Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles dictated tempo and owned the scoreboard for the majority of the first half to actually lead Arizona 35-27 at the break. However, Arizona imposed its will after intermission by upping its own defensive effort to pull ahead late and win, 63-55.

Nick Johnson scored a career-high 23 points in Tuesday's 63-55 win over Southern Miss.

Arizona (6-0, 5-0 home) struggled on offense for large portions of the game thanks to mixing zone defenses by the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss forced the Wildcats into 13 first half turnovers and a season-high 27 total, which had Sean Miller and the Arizona coaching staff searching for answers. Fortunately, Arizona’s own defense upped the ante and forced Southern Miss into 17 giveaways of their own in the second half to even things out enough to give the Wildcats a chance at protecting its unblemished record.

The Wildcats were led by Nick Johnson’s career-high 23 points, which included a three-pointer at the buzzer to pull Arizona to within just eight points at the break. Johnson’s trey followed a three-point basket by Southern Miss’ Neil Watson just second earlier that gave the Golden Eagles a brief double-digit advantage.

Arizona, which was held to 35.0 percent shooting in the first half (7-for-20) sizzled after the break, making 12-of-22 field goal attempts to finish the game shooting 45.2 percent. Still, it was a far cry from Arizona’s season averages of 52 percent field goal percentage at 85.2 points per game average.

Credit Southern Miss for Arizona’s offensive struggles.

The Golden Eagles mixed a variety of zone defense looks throughout the game, rotating from a two-three match-up zone to three-two and one-three-one looks.

Arizona used the intermission to make several adjustments. The biggest was taking its big men off the low block and sliding them closer to the apex to make post feeds easier. The end result was low post catches near the baseline, which opened clear cut paths for Arizona’s perimeter players to exploit on give and go situations.

Defensively, Arizona picked up its intensity to hold Southern Miss to 39.7 percent shooting for the game, which included a 9-for-24 effort in the final 20 minutes.

The Wildcats quickly erased Southern Miss’ eight-point halftime advantage with an 8-0 scoring run in the first two minutes of the second half to trail 37-35. The Golden Eagles would not back down though thanks to 17 points from Watson, whose jumper with 17:12 remaining pushed Southern Miss’ lead back to 42-35.

Arizona quickly answered, though, getting a lay in by Kevin Parrom off a baseline post pass from Brandon Ashley, and then a steal and two free throw makes by Jordin Mayes to trim the deficit to 44-43. Another steal by Mayes and finish by Johnson gave Arizona’s its first lead of the second half at 45-44. Less than two minutes later two free throws by Mark Lyons put the Wildcats up three points. Arizona capped its 10-0 scoring run on an offensive rebound and score by Parrom to lead 49-44 with 8:09 to play.

Southern Miss would respond with a 7-0 scoring run of its own to retake the lead at 51-49, but it would be a lead short-lived as a Parrom score inside quickly evened the game at 51-51 with just over five minutes left in regulation.

Parrom’s score ignited Arizona’s second 10-0 scoring run of the second frame as he soon after hit a three-pointer off a Johnson assist to put the Wildcats up 54-51. The teams would then go scoreless for nearly three minutes until Arizona’s Lyons found Hill wide open behind the three-point arc. Hill’s trey with 1:47 left put Arizona ahead 57-51. From there, the Wildcats would sink six consecutive free throws en route to the 63-55 final score.

Johnson added four assists and four steals to his 23-point total. Parrom finished with 14 points and a game-high eight rebounds. Hill scored nine points to go along with four assists and four rebounds while freshman Kaleb Tarczewski added seven points and seven rebounds.

Michael Craig had 10 points and seven rebounds in the loss, joining Watson as the only other Golden Eagle to score in double figures.

Follow me on Twitter @GaryRandazzo, and follow the website @WSRArizona.

  • Gary was surprisingly very positive in his summary. It was a painful game to watch for a number of reasons. I guess I'm most surprised by the fact that we look like we were totally unprepared for a zone defense even though we knew they were going to play it. 27 turnovers? Lyons probably lost some of his supporters after his performance last night. He was the one that needed to step up and be a leader and not over dribble and force passes. Nick and Kevin played well but also tried to force too many passes. The freshmen played like freshmen tonight. Let's hope we got this one out of our system.

  • Gary Randazzo

    I've had the Clemson game circled on my calendar as the one where Arizona would come out flat, struggle to score and have to fight through 40 minutes of really having a hard time. In a way I'm relieved it came at home ahead of the Clemson game because I think we'll now see a more focused Wildcat team take to the floor.

    Tuesday was ugly, but over a 30+ game season teams are going to have tough nights. The 27 turnovers were absurd, but I found hope in that Arizona's own defense forced 23 turnovers by Southern Miss. Hence, as bad as Tuesday was, the team still played hard, didn't panic much, and found a way to win.

    WSR Publisher National Basketball Recruiting Analyst Football Writers Association of America U.S. Basketball Writers Association

  • What drives me nuts is our guards pass the ball to the bigs so low, almost chest high. I know high lobs are hard but Zeus and Chol are such beast that it seems to me a 6'7 guarding them should not be able to even sniff the ball. Throw it up high to them and they should dunk all night long against these small athletic zone teams.

  • What I think is a lot of things came into play in this game first was it seemed like the team was not into the game. It seemed like they were playing with no effort at all and they might have been looking forward to the next couple of games and not on the opponent ahead of them with Clemson, and Florida. Second everybody seemed to be on a shooting slump that game. When they missed several layups in the first part of the first half it seems that someone forgot to take the top off the rim. Third and finally the freshman finally looked like freshman. They had bad tendencies, they showed bad habits, they played like it was their first game.
    Two things I know will change they will not look past their next teams no matter what because of the scare. Second they will not shoot that bad again all at the same time. I kind of feel bad for Clemson just because they will have the Wildcats full attention after a week of sprints which Miller was probably having them do for the past few days. I don't expect this game to be close I don't expect the Florida game to be close. I really hope that they learned the lesson for the rest of the year but to be honest they probably will do it again sometime the Pac 12 schedule. I will say one thing Southern Miss is a good team and would not be surprised to see them in the tourney if they can get through their conference.

  • Gary Randazzo

    I chalk it up to a learning experience for guys like Ashley, Zeus and Jerrett. They were trying to post up a body rather than just getting to an open spot to catch the ball. In short, they weren't great targets.

    Personally, I'm not a fan of the true low block post up anyway because after the catch you have limited space to operate. I prefer the mid post or as I've discussed the apex because it draws the defense out of its comfort zone, makes passing angles easier, opens up cutting lanes against a zone and forces the defender to have to guard against both the shot release as well as the Arizona big being able to square them up and use the dribble.

    There were times where the defender was "off" Zeus and Zeus would still try to search out his man and then try and post him up. Instead, Zeus couldn't take a step or two forward, up the key or out toward the baseline and made a really easy catch. I say this because feeding the post isn't always just about getting the big man a scoring touch. It's to force the defense to honor the big man by getting defenders to crash down off the perimeter in help support.

    WSR Publisher National Basketball Recruiting Analyst Football Writers Association of America U.S. Basketball Writers Association

  • Gary Randazzo

    liver97, I should add that I share some of the same frustration, though. Someone on Arizona must be able to throw a lob pass into the post, right? The guards definitely need to do a better job in working together with the big men to get them the darn ball.

    WSR Publisher National Basketball Recruiting Analyst Football Writers Association of America U.S. Basketball Writers Association

  • Exactly Gary how can guys throw a lob to a streaking NJ on a break but not lob into a 7 foot guy?

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