TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona went hunting for shots instead of working the ball around until a good one opened up.
That, in turn, affected their defense — and made their fiery coach quite angry.
Sparked by a halftime tirade by coach Sean Miller, No. 13 Arizona shook off a sluggish stretch to overwhelm Northern Arizona 92-37 on Wednesday night.
“We can’t take a half off, a play off, a game off. We’re not that good of a team. Very few teams are,” Miller said. “We have to stand for something and for us, the one thing we can control is our togetherness and effort on defense.”
After a solid start, Arizona (10-1) began to labor offensively and lost focus on the defensive end, allowing the Lumberjacks to keep it close until about the 8-minute mark of the first half. Once the Wildcats started sharing at both ends, they turned the game between in-state rivals into the expected rout.
Mark Tollefsen continued his recent scoring surge, scoring 19 points, and Ryan Anderson had his way with Northern Arizona inside, scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Arizona had a 50-14 advantage in the paint, 24 more rebounds and opened the second half with a 34-6 run to stretch the nation’s longest home winning streak to 45 games.
Allonzo Trier had 11 points and Dusan Ristic added for the Wildcats, who shot 57 percent in their final tune-up before hosting UNLV on Saturday.
“Just like coach preaches to us every day, just do what we do, play as hard as we possibly can and that’s what we did in the second half,” Tollefsen said. “I don’t think we did that as much in the first half.”
Northern Arizona (2-7) had a hard time with Arizona’s length and athleticism, opening each half with long scoring droughts. The Lumberjacks shot 22 percent, including 4 of 17 from 3-point range, and were held to 13 points in the second half.
Kris Yanku had 12 points to lead Northern Arizona.
“When you look at the scoreboard and see the final score, it’s tough to find positives, but our guys competed and played hard,” Lumberjacks coach Jack Murphy said. “This is something we can look back on when we get to conference and say we competed against one of the best in the country.”
Northern Arizona had 11 days to wash away its last game, a 17-point loss to Bakersfield that included 13 turnovers and two assists for the Lumberjacks.
The Lumberjacks appeared to be headed toward another rugged night, needing nearly five minutes to score their first points.
After the early struggles, Northern Arizona gathered itself in one of college basketball’s toughest road environments, pulling within 13-11 at the midpoint of the first half despite making 3 of 13 shots.
“With our team being so young, I thought that was a really good sign,” Murphy said. “Though our shot percentage wasn’t high, I thought we got some good shots and got to the rim.”
Once Arizona imposed its will on the smaller Lumberjacks, they stood no chance.
Shooting over Northern Arizona’s defenders without much trouble, the Wildcats raced away on a 15-4 run to go up 15. They weren’t very good from the perimeter, hitting 1 of 9 from the 3-point arc, but still led 40-24 at halftime.
Northern Arizona continued to clank shots, finishing the first half 7 for 28 from the floor.
Arizona left no doubt to start the second half, scoring the first 11 points as Northern Arizona needed more than 4 minutes to get on the board. The Wildcats made 20 of 27 shots in the half.
Murphy spent eight seasons on Lute Olson’s staff at Arizona, starting as a team manager in 1998 and is always treated with the respect of being a former Wildcat whenever he returns.
“Jack Murphy’s a great friend to our program and he’s somebody we respect a lot,” Miller said. “We certainly respect NAU as a rival.”
Northern Arizona: Coach Jack Murphy was called for a technical foul in the second half, but didn’t understand what it was for, yelling: “What did I do?” … The Lumberjacks are 0-5 in true road games this season. … Torry Johnson lost one of his teeth after being hit by Arizona’s Kadeem Allen on a drive to the basket in the second half. Arizona’s student section yelled “ohhhh!” after seeing a slow-motion replay of his tooth flying on the video screen.
Arizona: Junior guard Elliott Pitts missed his third straight game due to a personal issue. … The Wildcats have won 31 straight over NAU. … Coach Sean Miller was called for a technical foul early in the first half for arguing a non-foul call.
Northern Arizona plays at Arkansas-Little Rock on Monday.
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