It's only November and 12th-ranked Arizona is just two games into the season. Arizona head coach Sean Miller said his ballclub is still figuring out how to get the ball into the post and in the hands of a talented group of freshmen big men.
But for the time being, the Wildcats' frontcourt took matters into their own hands Thursday night at McKale Center.
The 'Cats started hot and finished strong, closing the final 6:13 on a 15-2 run to pull away for a 72-51 win over UTEP.
After losing the rebounding battle by three in Sunday's opener against Charleston Southern despite a significant height advantage, UA (2-0), well, rebounded in a big way. The Wildcats dominated the boards, 35-15 - including 13-5 on the offensive glass.
"We challenged our young frontcourt players," Miller said. "We were disappointed in our effort against Charleston Southern and I think we responded across the board."
Freshmen Grant Jerrett, Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley accounted for nine of the second-chances and created their own scoring opportunities off the misses.
But the Wildcats did not miss often, finishing just under 49 percent including an 11-of-19 performance after halftime.
"The one thing I liked about this game was the rebounding margin," Miller said. "When you beat a team 35-15 on the glass, I think that is the single difference in the game."
For the second consecutive game, point guard Mark Lyons led UA in scoring and equaled his 17-point output on 5-of-9 shooting. But it was from long range where the Xavier transfer proved to be most dangerous, connecting on 3 of 6 3-pointers.
As a team, the Wildcats converted eight of their nine baskets from beyond the arc in the first half and shot 50 percent for the game.
Senior forward Solomon Hill also finished in double figures with 10 points, six rebounds and four assists. Five other UA players scored at least seven points in another balanced attack.
"Everybody can contribute and that's what makes us special," Hill said.
But the margin of victory would have been greater if not for a dismal 19 turnovers and undisciplined second-half defense. The Miners (1-1) attempted 16 of their 19 free throws after the break on a number of plays where the 'Cats fouled jump shooters late in the shot clock.
And it was at the line where UTEP was able to cut a 35-22 halftime deficit down to eight on three occasions, including a 9-2 spurt to open the second half.
But a Tarczewski putback slam off a Hill miss with 5:26 to play highlighted the last push that closed the door.
Julian and Chris Washburn scored 11 points apiece to pace the Miners and Jacques Streeter added 10 in a losing effort. Junior center John Bohannon was held scoreless and grabbed just one rebound in 28 minutes before fouling out.
The Miners shot just 36.4 percent (16 of 44) from the field.
"I just couldn't get going tonight, and we couldn't get going as a team," said Bohannon, who finished 0 of 3 from the floor. "We got crushed on the boards - but I have to give them credit. Arizona is a big, athletic team, and we just didn't bring our 'A' game."
After Arizona's freshmen big were limited offensively in the opener, Tarczewski and Jerrett made sure to be active early. The Wildcats opened the game on a 10-3 run, and the duo accounted for the first eight points.
"Last game was a little tough more me," said Tarczewski, who had just four points and four rebounds in 16 minutes in his debut. "The last team was small and ran zone, so it wasn't really my type of game.
"Today, everybody did a great job at getting the ball to the post."
UTEP managed to weather the hot-shooting start, as Julian Washburn hit a number of contested shots early to pull within 13-8 at the first media timeout.
After both teams cooled off a bit, the Wildcats heated back up - specifically from the 3-point line. UA hit seven of its first 12 from long range and used an 18-5 run to pull ahead 31-16 with 3:53 left in the half.
Three quick scores from the Miners briefly cut the deficit under double digits, but a free throw and Lyons' 3-pointer at the 1:06 mark gave UA the 13-point advantage it took into the locker room.
Part of the reason was a 23-8 edge on the boards through the first 20 minutes, but 11 first-half turnovers - or, three more than the entire total in the opener - prevented a larger lead.
The Wildcats will return to action Monday against Big West Conference preseason favorite Long Beach State. Tipoff at McKale Center is scheduled for 7 p.m. MST.
Click Here to view this Link.Tracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor