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.
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