TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona looked, at least for a few minutes, as if it had a Maui hangover or was possibly looking ahead to a big game this weekend.
Once the Wildcats got rolling, there was no stopping them — and there was no doubt about their focus.
Stanley Johnson and Gabe York each scored 18 points, and No. 3 Arizona blitzed Gardner-Webb during a 16-0 second-half run to roll over the Bulldogs 91-65 Tuesday night in the Wildcats’ first game since winning the Maui Invitational last week.
“You’ve got to respect every opponent and for us to come from Maui and have a subpar performance is kind of making Maui look bad, like we took somebody for granted,” Johnson said.
Arizona (7-0) needed to shake out the cobwebs after the holiday break and had to rally from a sluggish start with a big run to end the first half. The Wildcats again were flat to open the second half, but had an even bigger run in them, hitting 11 straight shots during an 18-2 stretch that put the game out of reach.
Keyed by its defensive pressure, Arizona shot 56 percent and made 10 of 17 from 3-point range to extend its home-winning streak to 25 games.
“Our team is great at getting to the basket and getting fouls, and when people are hitting shots, the defense has to stay next to you and worry about you as well,” said York, who hit 6 of 10 shots, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range.
Gardner-Webb (3-4) made the game close with a big run to start the second half, pulling within one. Once the Wildcats turned up the pressure, the Bulldogs wilted under their athleticism.
Tyler Strange and Tyrell Nelson each had 15 points to lead the Bulldogs.
“We had the game where it was manageable, but from then on we just weren’t good enough,” Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft said.
Arizona’s main goal was to avoid a letdown against Gardner-Webb after winning three tough games for a second Maui Invitational title just before Thanksgiving. It figured to be a little tougher with a marquee match-up against No. 9 Gonzaga coming up on Saturday.
Gardner-Webb has played a tough non-conference schedule in its second season under Craft and held up reasonably well before its trip to the desert, picking up a win over Clemson last week in the U.S Virgin Islands.
The Wildcats looked rusty after a five-day break, throwing up shots that barely nicked the rim, sailed high off the backboard or missed everything, as Johnson did on an open 3-pointer.
Gardner-Webb had the clanking thing going early, too, putting up shots that were woefully short or caromed off the backboard without hitting rim.
Arizona found the range late in the half. Gardner-Webb couldn’t against the Wildcats’ pressure.
Arizona hit 5 of 9 shots from 3-point range in the first half, closing with a 14-4 run to take a 40-28 lead.
The Bulldogs hit 10 of 31 shots in the half, going 4 for 15 from 3-point range.
But Gardner-Webb still had some fight left.
The Bulldogs hit their first five shots of the second half, including three 3-pointers while opening with a 13-2 run that cut Arizona’s lead to 42-41.
Once Arizona turned up the pressure that was it.
Smothering the Bulldogs with their pressure defense, Arizona set up easy shots in transition, scoring 16 straight points to go up 67-48.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley had the highlights of the run with a pair of backboard-shaking dunks; Hollis-Jefferson two-handed on an alley-oop from York, Ashley one-handed on a drive down the lane.
“We have to learn to stop runs because that’s what killed us,” Strange said. “They had two great runs and we just couldn’t stop them.
With four victories in the past week, Arizona has pushed its regular-season non-conference winning streak to a nation-best 34 games. The Wildcats have not lost a non-conference game during the regular season since Gonzaga beat them on Dec. 17, 2011.
Gardner-Webb: The Bulldogs had 17 assists on 22 field goals, but shot 37 percent overall. … Jerome Hill had 13 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Arizona: The Wildcats had their way inside against the smaller Bulldogs, with a 44-14 advantage in the paint and 43-27 rebounding. … Kaleb Tarczewski had 10 points and seven rebounds.
Gardner-Webb hosts Toccoa Falls on Saturday.
Arizona hosts No. 9 Gonzaga on Saturday.
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