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December 8, 2012

No. 8 Arizona 'can't wait' for road tilt at Clemson

Coming off the worst performance of his short time in an Arizona uniform, senior transfer Mark Lyons summed up his thoughts about Saturday's 6 p.m. MST contest at Clemson in two words.

Then, he repeated it five more times.

"Can't wait," Lyons said, over and over.

The eighth-ranked Wildcats (6-0) are coming off Tuesday's lackluster 63-55 home win over Southern Miss. Lyons missed all seven of his field goals and scored just four points for the 'Cats, who were plagued by 27 turnovers.

Unlike the previous five victories, UA was involved in a tight contest until it closed the game on a 12-4 run over the final 5 1/2 minutes.

Arizona now will head back on the road for its second away game of the year, and Lyons said he actually prefers playing on the opponent's home floor.

"I kind of like the pressure and everybody against our team," Lyons said. "I like that, going in there with my guys. We all go in there for each other, got to fight for each other and have each other's back throughout the whole game."

Added teammate Jordin Mayes: "It's always good going into somebody else's house and beat them. That's just us going in there and just making a statement that we're coming to play every game."

In the Wildcats' first road test last Saturday at Texas Tech, Lyons set the tone early with 12 of his 14 points in the first half of an 85-57 blowout.

Lyons said "there's nothing better" than stepping back on the team's charter flight after a victory in another team's building. But, the flight to South Carolina will be all business until the job is done.

"Think about the game," Lyons said. "Worry about the game. It's a business trip.

"We've got to go in there and be ready."

The Tigers (5-2), winners of three of their last four, are coming back home after a 64-55 win at South Carolina. Forward K.J. McDaniels led three Clemson players in double figures, recording 16 points, seven rebounds and five blocks. Tigers center Devin Booker added 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting and a game-high eight boards.

McDaniels and Booker are tied for the team lead in scoring at 11.9 points per game, with Booker shooting a team-best 56.7 percent from the field.

"Little Booker, he's really good," Lyons said. "I've seen him play a couple times."

In last year's Dec. 10 meeting between the teams at McKale Center, Booker was limited to just nine points on 3-of-10 shooting and five rebounds. McDaniels chipped in seven points off the bench. But the Wildcats limited the Tigers to just 16 first-half points and held on for a 63-47 victory.

Now, Booker is a senior and McDaniels is a sophomore starter on a roster with just six players who appeared in last year's contest. The number would be seven, but T.J. Sapp - who started all seven games - announced Monday that he would transfer.

"I formed a brotherhood with my teammates, so this was a tough decision for me," Sapp said in a statement released by the school. "I love and appreciate everything about Clemson. Coach (Brad) Brownell is a tremendous guy, and I appreciate everything he's taught me. He definitely made me a better player, and I can honestly say I am stronger and wiser due to my experiences at Clemson. I'll never forget all of the coaches who taught me so much during my time here."

Whether the Wildcats can use much of last year's game to their advantage remains to be seen.

Mayes - who started against the Tigers but is now Lyons' backup - said Clemson likes to pressure the ball handlers coming up the floor.

But after the win over the Golden Eagles, UA head coach Sean Miller said that a Southern Miss team that had pressed "every possession of their season and dropped zone" caught his team off guard in the first half, which Arizona trailed by 8.

"They elected not to and I thought their defense was better," Miller said. "It didn't give you those easier opportunities.

"Sometimes you're just, for whatever reason, stymied for a long period of time offensively and then you try to fight to get out of it.

"We made a halftime adjustment with our offense. We sent a guy to the corner, a little bit more movement, and that really helped us. I'll also take the blame that I wish we would've done it from the onset."

Regardless, Mayes said that it is up to the guards to handle whatever comes their way and get the team into its offense better from the start.

"We've seen both zone, man, trapping and all that," Mayes said. "It comes down to scouting, and that's executing in practice and running our offense. That's basically what it comes down to. As players, we believe that we can attack any defense that's thrown at us.

"We've got to come in and lead. It starts from us guards on defense, just getting up and making a statement."

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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