TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona’s slow starts in games this season don’t bother guard Elliott Pitts.
“We never take a game lightly,” Pitts said. “It’s all about how we finish, and we’re undefeated right now.”
The No. 3 Wildcats made Pitts’ point by getting off to a slow start and then routing Utah Valley 87-56 on Tuesday night. Arizona trailed by three points in the first four minutes, but it didn’t take long for them to find another gear. Freshman Stanley Johnson led a balanced attack with 14 points and the Wildcats cruised to victory.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 12 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, Dusan Ristic scored 13 points and Gabe York added 11 for the Wildcats (9-0). Ristic and Johnson each had seven rebounds and Arizona was able to give 10 players at least 12 minutes of playing time — just in time for a game against Michigan in Tucson on Saturday.
“We didn’t have to play our starters heavy minutes. We got a lot of our guys who don’t start more minutes. With game experience comes confidence,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
Utah Valley went seven minutes of the second half without a point, trailing 62-30 at the 12-minute mark. Arizona continued to pull away, leading by as many as 34 points.
The win gave Arizona 36 straight regular-season non-conference victories, the longest streak in the nation.
The Wildcats used a 12-0 run over 3 1/2 minutes of the first half to take a commanding lead, going from a 16-14 deficit to a 26-16 lead on Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s steal and layup.
Guard Jaden Jackson hit a 3-pointer to give the Wolverines (3-5) a 16-14 lead at 13:24 in the first half. It was the only time they led in the game. Utah Valley lost its fourth straight game.
An alley-oop from Johnson to Kaleb Tarczewski for a dunk gave the Wildcats a 34-24 lead with 6:24 to play in the first half. Arizona took its largest lead of the half on a 3-pointer from the right baseline by Pitts that made it 42-28 at halftime.
Arizona opened the second half on a 20-2 run, ignited by 3-pointers from Johnson and York and a dunk by York at 16:40. That slammed the door on Utah Valley’s chances.
Chad Ross led the Wolverines with 12 points and Marcel Davis added 10. It was the first meeting between the two schools and the highest-ranked team Utah Valley has ever played.
Arizona’s defense was the major difference, as the Wildcats forced Utah Valley into 17-of-47 shooting, and shut off the penetration lanes, blocking eight shots. The Wildcats also used full-court pressure effectively, something they worked on in practice.
“We had an opportunity to work on it against a team that was very deliberate,” Miller said. “We tried to speed them up. It’s something for us to mix in, especially in a home game. That makes sense. Taking advantage of our quickness and giving the other team a different look.”
Arizona: The Wildcats held an opponent under 80 points for the 54th straight game, going back to March of 2013. Arizona has a 27-game winning streak at home. Wildcats forward Brandon Ashley was issued a technical foul for arguing with officials with 9:38 to play in the game. Miller substituted for him immediately, then moments later the Wildcats were called for another technical foul.
Utah Valley: Tuesday’s game ended seven straight on the road for the Wolverines, going back to Nov. 17.. The Wolverines’ most notable basketball alumnus is NBA guard Ronnie Price of the Los Angeles Lakers. The Wolverines are 0-6 all-time against Top 25 opponents.
Arizona hosts Michigan on Saturday.
Utah Valley hosts Utah State on Saturday.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “Kaleb (Tarczewski), tonight wasn’t his night. We need Kaleb on Saturday. We didn’t need him tonight.” -Miller on Tarczewski, who scored four points in 19 minutes.
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