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November 11, 2012

Bench saves No. 12 Arizona in opener

Last season's Arizona team may not have had the firepower or depth to withstand the challenge presented Sunday night in the 2012-13 regular-season opener.

But head coach Sean Miller said coming into the season that a retooled, 10-deep roster could trust its bench just as much as the starting five. A 32-point outing from the reserves on opening night proved his point immediately.

A pair of traditional 3-point plays and a rare 5-point play - all part of an 11-2 run - helped the No. 12 Wildcats pull away from Charleston Southern for a 82-73 victory in front of 14,503 at McKale Center.

Freshman Brandon Ashley led the bench mob with 12 points, eight rebounds, a pair of blocks and a steal in 24 minutes of action.

"Coming off the bench, I wanted to bring great energy," said Ashley, who scored eight of his points from the free-throw line. "When I play good defense, then good offense follows.

"Whether I start or come in later in the game, I want to make the most of it. Starting is not the most important thing."

Leading by just five with 4:06 to play against the preseason favorites from the Big South Conference, the Wildcats (1-0) received continuation baskets from Mark Lyons and Kevin Parrom to go up 75-66.

Then, Lyons converted a nifty layup while Ashley was fouled away from the ball. The 6-8 forward missed the free throw but corralled his own rebound, and Solomon Hill sucked in the Buccaneers' 2-3 matchup zone on a drive and hit Parrom in front of the UA bench for the dagger 3-pointer from the corner.

Despite some struggles from the floor - UA shot 45 percent but just 11-of-32 from beyond the arc - Miller was pleased with his team's execution on offense, where five players finished in double figures. The Wildcats collected 25 assists to just eight turnovers, and Lyons had six of the helpers without a single turnover.

A 6-1 guard with a scorer's mentality, Lyons added a team-high 17 points despite a 5-of-14 shooting display in his UA debut after spending the last four years at Xavier.

"My teammates are great scorers," Lyons said. "I expect them to make shots. I have trust in them and they trust me."

The defense, however, was another story. Charleston Southern (0-2) shot 44 percent from the field and converted 19 of 29 free throws in tightly-called contest for both sides.

Guard Arlon Harper led all players with 20 points, making 5 of 10 field goals and 7 of 10 from the foul line. Forward Mathiang Muo chipped in 16 points and seven boards.

"Our first goal was to win and we didn't accomplish that," Buccaneers head coach Barclay Radebaugh said. "But our second goal was to improve and we significantly accomplished that."

Leading by four at the half, the Wildcats came out with the same flat performance that plagued them in the first 20 minutes.

After Charleston Southern tied the game at 47, Hill put the 'Cats back ahead with a 3-pointer. But with 13:02 remaining, the forward was caught in the lane on defense as Sheldon Strickland created just enough contact with a helpless Hill to force a whistle and his fourth foul.

UA was able to stay in front by the time Hill returned to the floor with under 8 minutes left. On cue, the 6-7 senior connected from long range with 7:38 remaining to push the advantage to 62-57. That sparked an 8-3 run, and a Lyons drive and continuation on a 3-point play with 4:06 remaining stretched the lead to 72-64.

"It was tough, at first, to get going but my teammates picked me up and told me it was OK," said Lyons, who was held without a made field goal in the first half.

Charleston Southern scored the first six points and quickly grabbed an 11-3 lead after just 3 minutes of action to force an Arizona timeout.

Miller quickly went to his bench, bringing an entire different lineup on the floor to change the team's fortune. It worked, as a steal, assist and a layup within the span of a minute from Gabe York sparked the 'Cats and pulled them within 15-14 at the 11:13 mark.

The starting five returned the floor shortly after the sequence but after trading baskets with the Buccaneers - and falling back behind by as many as six - a mix of reserves and Hill helped the Wildcats pull ahead for the first time, 26-25, on a Jordin Mayes 3-pointer with less than 5 minutes before the break.

Mayes poured in all 10 of his points in nine first-half minutes, and the reserves accounted for 21 of team's 43 points.

"I think Jordin Mayes did an overall great job," Miller said.

But Charleston Southern, which led by as many as 8, would not be intimidated by the frenzied crowd and remained in the game thanks to Harper. His free throws with 1:20 left put the Bucs back up by three.

UA, however, finally got some production from the other starters not named Hill in the final minute. Trailing 39-38 with 36 seconds left, Nick Johnson drilled a corner 3-pointer to put the 'Cats back on top. The defense then hounded the Bucs into a turnover on the next possession, and Lyons fed Ashley for a layup with 10.9 seconds remaining to give the Wildcats a 43-39 lead going into the locker room.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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