TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Brandon Ashley dominated his teammates in practice last week, which, at a school such as Arizona, is saying something.
He didn’t stop once the next game came along.
Earning a start because of his hard work in practice, Ashley made the most of it, scoring 20 points while hitting all six of his shots and grabbing 10 rebounds to help the No. 10 Wildcats run over Long Beach State 94-72 Monday night.
“We want to reward players that are working hard and doing it every day,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “You get 20 points and 10 rebounds in 24 minutes, he was the best player on the court tonight.”
Arizona certainly had the best time on this night.
The Wildcats (3-0) quickly turned what was supposed to be their toughest challenge of the early season into a rout, racing out to a 22-point lead in the first half.
Arizona started making shots right after the opening tip and barely stopped, shooting 53 percent while making 9 of 19 from 3-point range and 25 of 35 free throws.
They got contributions from up and down the lineup.
Ashley, one of Miller’s four heralded freshmen big men, scored the Wildcats’ first seven points and made 8 of 9 free throws.
Kevin Parrom was perfect on five 3-point attempts, scoring 15 points. Fellow senior Solomon Hill also had 15 points, making all 11 of his free throws. Nick Johnson added 12 points, five assists and three steals.
The Wildcats outscored Long Beach State by 16 inside and got 16 more points on 13 offensive rebounds, outrebounding the 49ers 41-23.
OK, so maybe the perimeter defense is still a problem.
Still, with nine days off between games, this was a nice way to go into the break.
“I thought tonight there were times in the first and second halves where it was our best play of the season,” Miller said. “We looked how you hope we would look.”
Long Beach State (1-3) managed to keep it close against then-No. 11 North Carolina in its last game, down by just one at the half.
The 49ers never stood much of a chance against Arizona, unable to stop the Wildcats while falling into a deep early hole or able to shoot their way back despite making 14 3-pointers.
James Ennis led Long Beach State with 17 points and Peter Pappageorge added 16.
“Defensively, we were just a nightmare tonight,” Long Beach State coach Don Monson said. “We have to go back to square one.”
Long Beach State’s first game against Arizona since 1995 comes in the middle of a difficult stretch in the schedule.
The 49ers opened the season with a win over North Alabama, then lost at Southern California and by 15 to the Tar Heels.
After leaving Tucson, Long Beach State will play road games against No. 6 Syracuse, No. 3 Ohio State and No. 11 UCLA before starting the Big West season on Dec. 29.
It’s no surprise; the 49ers play one of the nation’s toughest nonconference schedules pretty much every season, a concept Monson brought with him from his Gonzaga days.
And they figured to give Arizona its first real test of the season.
With a talented mix of young players and some steady veterans, the Wildcats opened the season with a nine-point win over Charleston Southern and rolled over Texas-El Paso last Thursday.
Arizona survived Charleston Southern’s quickness and out-bigged the tall Miners, grabbing 20 more rebounds.
Long Beach State is a combination of the Wildcats’ first two opponents, the two-time defending champions in the Big West and the favorite to win it again.
A stiff challenge?
No. Arizona turned it into a rout right away.
Ashley, who replaced fellow freshman Grant Jerrett in the starting lineup, got things rolling, scoring on a three-point play and hitting a jumper. He had 11 points by halftime, hitting all three of his shots and all five free throws, showing no sign of first-start jitters.
“My teammates were looking for me and they put me in great position to score,” Ashley said. “With that happening, I didn’t feel the need to force up any shots.”
The rest of the Wildcats weren’t missing much, either, building a 39-17 lead.
Even when the 49ers went on a 10-0 run midway through the first half, Arizona barely blinked, leading by 13 at halftime after hitting 17 of 27 shots, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range.
Arizona never let the 49ers get back in it in the second half, either.
The Wildcats shut down Long Beach State on the perimeter early in the half, Parrom hit a couple of 3-pointers early and Hill scored on a three-point play to put Arizona up 67-48 with just over 14 minutes left.
Arizona cruised from there, allowing the 49ers to hit six straight 3-pointers in the closing minutes without the lead dipping below 20.
“Arizona has the ingredients to be a very good team next month if they keep improving,” Monson said. “They shoot the ball, they have great length, good size and good guards. They have all the components they need to keep coming together and really make an impact.”