No. 12 Arizona 72, UTEP 51
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP)
One of Arizona's strengths this season is supposed to be a big front line filled with talented young players.
The Wildcats didn't use it to their advantage in the opener against Charleston Southern.
They sure did against Texas-El Paso.
Dominating UTEP inside with its depth and aggressiveness, No. 12 Arizona overcame some sloppy ball-handling by grabbing 20 more rebounds in a 72-51 win over the Miners on Thursday night.
''Last game, we didn't get as many rebounds as we normally should, so Coach got on us,'' said Arizona freshman Grant Jerrett, who led the Wildcats with seven rebounds. ''That's basically it. We wanted to show that we could rebound.''
Arizona (2-0) took care of the ball in its opener against Charleston Southern and shot well from the perimeter, but was outrebounded 34-31 by the smaller Buccaneers.
The Wildcats were a little sloppier with the ball this time, turning it over 19 times, and fouled a little too much, particularly in the second half to let the Miners keep it close for a while.
They were good again from 3-point range, going 9 of 18 after hitting 11 against Charleston Southern, but the real difference was on the glass.
Arizona had a 35-15 advantage in rebounds and scored 13 second-chance points off 13 offensive boards, impressive numbers against UTEP's big front line.
''We went against a physical, big team and we were able to really hurt them on the glass,'' Arizona coach Sean Miller said. ''That's a credit to us, not a discredit to UTEP.''
Despite the rebounding issues and trailing by double-digits most of the second half, the Miners (1-1) remained aggressive, taking the ball to the rim against the big Wildcats. UTEP got to the free throw line 16 times in the second half and went 14 of 19 overall.
The Miners just had trouble making shots from anywhere else, shooting 36 percent while leading scorer John Bohannon went scoreless before fouling out.
Julian Washburn and Chris Washburn each had 11 points for the Miners.
''Tonight was very tough, but it's a learning experience,'' Julian Washburn said. ''Arizona's defense wasn't smothering, but they really beat us on the boards. We didn't get many rebounds and took away our own chance of winning.''
Arizona and UTEP are no strangers on the basketball court.
The Wildcats and Miners played in the same conference together from 1935-78, first with the Border Conference, then the Western Athletic Conference.
They hadn't met since 1995, though, and went in different directions after that: Arizona became a national powerhouse in a major conference while UTEP scratched its way into the NCAA tournament twice.
Arizona entered this season with some big expectations after Miller signed another highly touted recruiting class that included four of the top incoming big men in the country.
They didn't contribute much in the Wildcats' opener, though, forcing Miller to go with his veterans down the stretch in a tighter-than-expected 82-73 home win over Charleston Southern.
Arizona's young bigs got off to a good start against UTEP, with Kaleb Tarczewski scoring its first basket on a putback and Jerrett hitting a 3-pointer for the next one.
They also hit the boards: Tarczewski, Jerrett and Brandon Ashley combined to outrebound UTEP 12-8 in the first half. The young trio combined for 24 points and 18 rebounds overall.
''We challenge our young frontcourt players,'' Miller said. ''We were disappointed in our effort against Charleston Southern and I think we responded across the board.''
UTEP had it easy in its first game, rolling over Oral Roberts by 20. The Miners have struggled on the road - 1-11 last season - and were facing a big upgrade in talent, not to mention one of the toughest atmospheres in college basketball.
UTEP struggled offensively early, missing 11 of its first 16 shots, and trailed 35-22 at halftime. The Miners fought their way back a couple of times, using their defense and a slew of free throws to cut Arizona's lead to 39-31 in the first 4 minutes of the second half.
Hill took over from there, hitting a 3-pointer, a rebound slam and a baseline jumper. Then he fed Angelo Chol for another from the same spot that put Arizona up 50-33.
The Miners chipped away again, getting within eight, but Arizona didn't let them any closer, pulling away down the stretch.
''I really like the Arizona team,'' UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. ''I think they have a chance to compete for (it) all if they get better down the stretch.''
The Wildcats took a small step Thursday night.