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November 29, 2012

No. 9 Wildcats burn NAU from deep

So much for rust.

Coming off an eight-day gap between games, No. 9-ranked Arizona shot a blistering 57.1 percent from the 3-point line Wednesday night to post a wire-to-wire, 93-50 victory over Northern Arizona at McKale Center.

It was the third consecutive game in which the Wildcats (4-0) have never trailed. UA's last deficit was inside the final minute of the first half in the Nov. 11 season opener against Charleston Southern - a streak that has now spanned 140 minutes, 38 seconds of action, and counting.

Point guard Mark Lyons led the team in scoring for the third time in four games, netting 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Senior forward Solomon Hill added 17 while Angelo Chol and Nick Johnson chipped in 10 apiece for the Wildcats, who connected on 12 of 21 3-pointers as a team in the rout.

For the game, the 'Cats finished with a 57.7 percent (30 of 52) clip and owned a 39-27 egde on the boards.

"We were definitely ready to come out and play," said Johnson, who connected on all three of his shot attempts and added a game-high seven assists.

During the layoff, Johnson said it was a "little hard" watching the other holiday tournaments around the country while the Wildcats could do nothing but practice against themselves.

"We just kept on grinding out the days," Johnson added.

With a 13-point lead at the break, the Wildcats opened the second half on a 14-4 run to run the advantage to 53-30 with 15:32 remaining. Lyons, who led UA with eight first-half points, needed just four minutes to equal his total.

A mini 6-0 burst pulled the Lumberjacks to within 53-34 with 14:10 to play. But UA answered with its own 23-3 run over the next 8 minutes and limited NAU to just one made field goal in that span.

Arizona led by as many as 49, and in the closing minutes the UA band broke out in a "We want Wiepking!" chant. Senior Max Wiepking and the bench mob would soon check in, and the forward's 3-pointer at the 2:18 mark was the capper on a stellar performance from beyond the arc.

For the game, the Lumberjacks (1-3) shot just 36.4 percent from the floor including 9 of 29 from long distance. The 3-point shot was one of UA head coach Sean Miller's points of emphasis coming into the week after his team allowed 14 in a victory over Long Beach State in the last outing.

"I thought our team left the locker room at halftime and really gave great effort on defense," Miller said. "(The team) was more together on defense, made it harder to score for the other team.

"We did a better job tonight defending the 3 than we have."

The 'Cats jumped on the Lumberjacks early, connecting on their first four shots for a quick 9-0 lead. Johnson and Hill accounted for all of the points in the spurt - highlighted by the first of a game-high four steals and a breakaway dunk for Johnson.

"If he had no steals, he was still playing a tremendous defensive game," Miller said of Johnson. "He was helping recovering, he was helping chasing his guy. He was engaged in all of the things we've talked about, not getting screened."

A Kaleb Tarczewski offensive rebound and putback off a missed free throw doubled the lead with less than 9 minutes to play in the half.

NAU managed to cut the deficit to 39-26 by the break on DeWayne Russell's 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer.

Russell finished with 13 points to lead the Lumberjacks.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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