Sloppy No. 4 Arizona still prevails
Fourth-ranked Arizona was bigger, stronger and better, so it was no surprise that it stayed unbeaten Saturday with a 73-53 win over East Tennessee State to ease into the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic.
The Wildcats also were sloppier than ever, and that's what concerned coach Sean Miller.
Despite leading by double figures for all but the opening four minutes of the game, Arizona kept the score from really getting out of hand with 12 turnovers in the second half that made its 10th straight victory feel hollow.
Arizona has won its past two games by a combined 45 points, and it has turned over the ball 35 times in wins over Oral Roberts and East Tennessee State.
Miller said that won't hold up the rest of the tournament, especially if No. 18 San Diego State is waiting on the Wildcats (10-0) in the championship game on Christmas Day.
''I don't really want to even use the word `frustrating.' It's more disappointing to be so far along in a tournament like this and we can't play without turning the ball over,'' Miller said.
''And if we keep doing it, we're not going to win. It's amazing that we're 10-0 without [being able] ... to handle the ball and take care of it. I think we're averaging almost 15 turnovers a game, and that's a lot for a good team.''
Arizona was plenty good against the Bucs (2-9).
Brandon Ashley had 16 points and 10 rebounds to lead Arizona. He started the 11-0 run with a short jumper and finished it with a three-point play in transition.
Nick Johnson dazzled with a 360-degree dunk during one fast break. The Wildcats got balanced scoring, with seven players contributing at least seven points, though Ashley was the only Wildcat in double figures.
Arizona won for the sixth time by 20 points or more this season.
East Tennessee tried to stay competitive in the second half, with plenty of help from Arizona and its poor ball handling. The Bucs got within 44-30 behind Jarvis Jones with 13:17 left in the game. Arizona went on a 15-3 run and stretched the lead to as many as 30 points before playing its reserves the rest of the way.
The Wildcats had 10 players score, which was one more player than the Bucs suited up for this holiday tournament.
This really was a mismatch — or should have been.
''I think we started off the game real well,'' Ashley said. ''In the second half, we kind of let off. We definitely should have played better in the second half. We had way too many turnovers. I honestly think we got a little complacent in the second half. We didn't play as hard or as well as we should, so that's definitely one thing we can focus on, coming out and handling business like we should. And once we do that, I think we'll do all right.''
Arizona next plays Sunday against Miami, a 73-58 winner over Hawaii in a Saturday night game.
Jones was all the Bucs had going for them in the second half. He scored 13 of their 19 points at one stretch and finished with a game-high 21 points.
Ashley also led the Wildcats with his 10 rebounds as they had a 46-27 advantage on the boards, no surprise given their superior size, strength and skill. The Bucs had to work for everything and shot just 31 percent from the field.
The Bucs never had a chance from the start. They missed their first five shots and didn't score until nearly four minutes into the game when Jones hit a jumper from the wing. After Lester Wilson made a 3-pointer to trim the lead to 18-8, the Bucs went seven minutes without scoring.
The Wildcats were relentless, scoring easily in transition or moving the ball at a frenetic pace when they set up the offense against East Tennessee State's zone.
Defensively, they got their hands on the ball on just about every possession.
Arizona also had a cold spell in the opening half, going nearly five minutes without scoring until Johnson made a pair of free throws and Kevin Parrom made a 3-pointer that set off a 9-2 run to close out the second half.
''I thought we came out ready to play,'' Miller said. ''In fact, I thought some of our best basketball was at the beginning of both halves. ... I think where we're frustrated, or concerned, is we have to take care of that ball better. And I think if we do that, we score closer to 90 points, and a lot of the talent we have, the good things about our team will come out. But they won't come out when they're doing what we did in the second half.''
The Bucs ran off nine straight points early in the second half with one blunder after another by Arizona.
Parrom twice scored by grabbing missed shots under the basket for easy scores, Ashley took it inside and converted three of four free throws and Grant Jerrett made a 3-pointer from the top of the key during the 15-3 run.
''With the size that we have this year, we're expected to dominate the boards and honestly, that's what we need to do in order to win these big games,'' Ashley said. ''We play every game the same. We come out, we compete, we crash the glass, we beat 'em up on the glass, and that's going to help us out a lot.''
They didn't need much help against the Bucs, who got little help outside of Jones.