The No. 2 Arizona Wildcats began their 2014-15 season the same way they played throughout 2013-14, using suffocating defense to frustrate opponents and lead to baskets on the other end of the floor.
The Wildcats used 57.4 percent field-goal shooting and limited the Mountaineers to 38.5 percent from the floor to spearhead a 78-55 rout over Mount St. Mary’s in their season opener Friday at McKale Center in Tucson.
After missing the final two months of the 2013-14 season with a foot injury, junior forward Brandon Ashley was brilliant in his return, scoring 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting. Ashley, who also happens to wear No. 21, added six rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes.
Sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 15 points, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks off the bench for the Wildcats, who will be back in McKale to take on Cal-State Northridge at 6 p.m. Sunday.
Here’s how UA opened up its season with a home victory, by the numbers:
Arizona looked sluggish on the offensive end until the end of the first half, when they recorded three steals that all led to uncontested dunks — one by Ashley and two by Hollis-Jefferson — to give UA a 40-25 lead at halftime.
Arizona senior point guard T.J. McConnell’s seven assists were one shy of the Mountaineers’ team total of eight.
McConnell’s backup at the PG spot, freshman Parker Jackson-Cartwright, made a positive impact in his collegiate debut, scoring eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range. He also had a pair of assists and didn’t turn the ball over.
Led by junior center Kaleb Tarczewski’s 10 rebounds, the Wildcats out-rebounded the Mountaineers 35-28. Tarczewski earned a double-double by adding 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
Arizona forced 15 Mount St. Mary’s turnovers thanks largely to 11 steals, four of which were made by McConnell.
Mount St. Mary’s hung close for much of the game, and a 3-pointer by Will Miller cut UA’s lead to 51-44 with 11 minutes to play. The Wildcats responded with a 12-0 run that was begun by a pair of McConnell jumpers to put the game away.
Free-throw shooting was a problem for the Wildcats for most of last season, and that issue has already bled into their 2014-15 campaign. UA missed 13 of its 25 attempts from the line Friday, including eight of its first 12.