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October 31, 2012

No. 12 Wildcats, new 7-footer a big hit in exhibition win

Head coach Sean Miller's new-look Arizona men's basketball team needed less than 4 minutes Wednesday night to prove that it was not the same team that lost to Seattle Pacific in an exhibition game a season ago.

The No. 12-ranked Wildcats finished with five scorers in double figures and cruised to a 108-67 win over Humboldt State in the exhibition opener in front of 12,431 at McKale Center.

"The big difference from a year ago is the obvious - we are bigger," Miller said.

And no player stood taller or played bigger than freshman 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski, who is one of three talented first-year players that stand 6-8 and above and make up 75 percent of the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation.

After a shaky unofficial debut 10 days ago in front of a sellout crowd at the Red-Blue game, Tarczewski settled down and scored 13 of his team-leading 18 points after halftime. He also added 10 rebounds to notch a double-double.

"He was nervous before the Red-Blue game, and I told him, 'We're playing basketball,'" said sophomore guard Nick Johnson, who added 14 points. "'It doesn't matter how big the gym is or how many people are in it, just go out and play.'"

To sum it all up, Johnson added: "When you go from a 6-7 Jesse Perry (from last year's team) to a 7-foot, 255-pound Kaleb Tarczewski," and a number of other bigs, "it's a lot easier."

New UA point guard Mark Lyons, a senior transfer from Xavier, said that much as well and proved to be an instant success, in his own right. The 6-1 floor general connected on a pair of 3-pointers as part of an 11-0 run to open the contest.

His third long-range basket of the half pushed the lead to 30-10 just past the midway point. Lyons finished the night with 15 points, his average at Xavier last year, and added five assists and four rebounds in a solid all-around effort before fouling out.

"A lot of people doubted me, if I was a point guard," said Lyons, who mixed in a fair share of quality entry passes into his post players. "I'm going to make the right plays on the court. If somebody is open I'm going to give them the ball, and if I have an opportunity I'm going to go ahead and take it."

The Wildcats also had a plus-eight edge on rebounds in the half and dominated the battle, 46-26.

But behind Alec Williams' 16 first-half points, the Lumberjacks found their way back in the game. Humboldt State used a 10-0 run - including eight from Williams - to cut the deficit to just seven points with 6:29 remaining.

Part of the issue also was UA's free-throw shooting as the 'Cats made just 9 of 16 attempts and finished 19 of 32 (59.4 percent).

The Wildcats, who connected on 39 of 66 field goals (59.1 percent), however, quickly pushed the lead back up to 12 and took a 46-35 advantage into halftime.

The lead ballooned back up to 30 points with less than six minutes to play, and UA cruised the rest of the way thanks to a 75 percent shooting clip in the second half.

Also in double figures for the Wildcats were Solomon Hill (15 points) and Brandon Ashley (12), who added eight rebounds in a reserve role.

Williams finished with a game-high 22 points and six rebounds in the loss. He also gave UA issues with 3-of-4 performance from beyond the arc.

Miller was not pleased with a defense that was among the best in the nation against 3-point shooting and led the Pac-12 Conference at just 28.5 percent. The Lumberjacks connected on 9 of 19 (47.4 percent) from beyond the arc.

"You're really playing with fire," Miller said. "Their open 3s came from our open rotation and irresponsibility."

Just as important as the game, however, was the number of lineup combinations Miller used. The Wildcats started Lyons, Hill and Johnson alongside Jerrett and Tarczewski.

It did not take long, however, for Kevin Parrom and Ashley to check in and give the 'Cats a lineup of four players who stand 6-6 or taller. Ashley, who subbed in for the 7-foot Tarczewski, played power forward as Jerrett moved over to center.

"With size comes depth," Miller said.

The Wildcats will face Chico State, another CAA Division II team, in the final exhibition tune-up next Tuesday, Nov. 6 at McKale Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

UA will open the regular season Nov. 11 at home against Charleston Southern.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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