Arizona’s offense looks like one of the country’s best – and biggest. Led by formidable size inside and good guard play, Sean Miller’s team has had no problems scoring thus far.
It doesn’t appear that Southern Mississippi, which travels to Tucson for Tuesday night’s showdown, is equipped to slow the eighth-ranked Wildcats, either.
Arizona, which is looking for its first 6-0 start since 1999, averaged 85.3 points in its first four games against mid-major competition and won by an average of 23.8. A road contest at previously undefeated Texas Tech on Saturday looked like it would be the Wildcats’ first true test, but Arizona ran away with an 85-57 win – its second-largest victory margin.
The Wildcats’ big front line was dominant again. The starting trio of Solomon Hill, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski – all 6-foot-7 or taller – combined for 32 points on 11-of-14 shooting with 20 rebounds. The Wildcats outrebounded the Red Raiders 41-26 and scored 16 second-chance points.
The average height of the top seven players in Arizona’s rotation is over 6-foot-6, including Tarczewski, a highly touted 7-foot freshman. No one is more thankful than Miller, whose top seven a year ago averaged a height of 6-foot-4 with no one taller than 6-foot-7.
“Until you go through that 35-game season being small, you don’t realize how important size is, especially in quality players,” said Miller, whose team owns a 12.4 rebounding differential – one of the best marks in the country. “How that affects the game in so many ways and right now with this year’s team we have that to our advantage.”
Arizona, which moved up to No. 8 in this week’s Associated Press poll, is also bolstered by a solid duo in its backcourt. Nick Johnson scored a game-high 18 against the Red Raiders and Mark Lyons – tied with Hill for the team’s scoring lead at 14.0 points per game – scored 14. The two combined to go 5 of 8 from 3-point range.
The 6-foot-7 Hill is hitting 11 of his 23 3-point attempts. Arizona is among the nation’s leaders in both 3-point shooting percentage (43.8) and 3-pointers per game (9.8).
The Wildcats’ impressive balance combines for an offense that averages 85.2 points and shoots 52.3 percent. Still, they’re not nearly satisfied.
“I think we’re nowhere near where we need to be,” said Johnson, who has totaled 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting in the last two games. “Every part of our game we can get better in, and we’re just going to keep practicing and get better at that so we can be the best we can be.”
The Golden Eagles (6-1) are coming off their first loss, a 68-60 defeat at New Mexico State on Saturday. They could struggle with Arizona’s size after being outrebounded 34-26 by the Aggies and outscored 34-18 in the paint.
“You have to give a lot of credit to New Mexico State,” first-year head coach Donnie Tyndall said. “That’s the most talented team we’ve played so far. We really couldn’t do much with their big guys. We tried to front the post, but they just kept throwing inside for easy baskets.”
Senior forward Dwayne Davis averages a team-best 15.1 points, but he tied a season low with nine against the Aggies.
Southern Miss defeated then-No. 23 Central Florida in 2011 in its last game against a ranked foe to end a 17-game losing streak versus Top 25 teams. It has lost its only two games against Arizona, with the most recent matchup in 1954.