The No. 12 team in the country entered the heavy favorite, and the Arizona Wildcats didn’t give much reason to worry about being upset in their season opener.
Sean Miller’s team never trailed in a 79-61 win against the Pacific Tigers, incrementally building a double-digit lead that in the late second half reached 28 points, 73-45, with six minutes to go.
First impressions don’t mean everything for this mature but, as a unit, unproven version of Arizona basketball. The game did give an idea of what to expect from a team with so many question marks due to roster turnover from a year ago.
1. They look familiar with one another
The Wildcats ran with the same starting lineup as their single exhibition game.
Returnees Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York were joined by three transfers: senior forwards Ryan Anderson and Mark Tollefsen along with redshirt junior point guard Kadeem Allen.
Yet, there wasn’t any time wasted feeling one another out against an over-matched opponent.
There was assertiveness in Arizona’s game, not over-aggressiveness. With that, there was unselfishness.
Power forward Ryan Anderson, a transfer from Boston College, led the Wildcats with 18 and 12 rebounds, showing a mature, diverse offensive game working from elbow down. He went 5-for-8 from the field and got the free throw line 11 times.
Allen, a redshirt junior and junior college transfer, meanwhile appeared comfortable as the starting point guard. He finished with 13 points, five assists and two steals, while York looked comfortable in a bigger role, where his shooting and attacking of the rim are both necessary. He scored 13 points and hit three triples.
2. The bench isn’t bad but could use more scoring, development
As of now, it appears Arizona can work with an eight-man rotation without any drop-off.
Jackson-Cartwright, the sophomore point guard, could very well could fight for a starting gig in place of Allen, and at the least Miller will use him as much; Allen can easily slide to shooting guard to play alongside Jackson Cartwright.
Freshman Allonzo Trier scored eight points and should also be a major contributor despite struggling by hitting 1-of-10 shots and making up for that by getting to the foul line. And Ristic hit the boards (11 rebounds) and added a post scoring threat.
Still, the bench produced 16 points on the evening, which will only be a problem if the starters don’t have it going. It’ll help if shooting guard Elliott Pitts, who can play either wing position, gets healthy.
Elliott Pitts has a left knee sprain keeping him out tonight but Sean Miller said Thursday it was “not a long-term injury.”
— Bruce Pascoe (@BrucePascoe) November 14, 2015
The Arizona bench went 4-for-25 — that sank the Wildcats to 39 percent shooting for the game — as both Jackson-Cartwright and Trier struggled from the field.
Freshmen Justin Simon and Chance Comanche also earned spot minutes but in the blowout were pulled as Pacific made a late run, forcing Miller to bring his starters back to close the game.
3. Defensively, Arizona looks solid again
It’s hard to judge a season opener against a team like Pacific, but at the least, the Wildcats didn’t have too many defensive breakdowns.
Arizona held the Tigers to 37 percent shooting and 32 percent from three.
No, there’s not the length of a Brandon Ashley, or the energy of a McConnell or a Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to create turnovers (Pacific finished with only nine), but the Wildcats knew where they needed to be.
It goes back to the maturity of the players like Tarczewski, Anderson and Allen.
Defensively and offensively, that looks like it can carry Arizona as it develops early in the non-conference schedule.
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