Big runs to start each half send Arizona past Texas Tech

TUCSON, Ariz. — A little sloppy, but no serious letdown.

That’s the best way to describe No. 2 Arizona’s first outing since its emotional victory over Duke in championship game of the NIT Season Tip-off.

Freshman Aaron Gordon scored 19 points, Nick Johnson and Brandon Ashley added 18 each and the Wildcats beat Texas Tech 79-58 on Tuesday night.

“I mean, a win’s a win so you’re always happy about that,” point guard T.J. McConnell said. “But I think we played a little sluggish. We all know we could have played a little bit better.”

Johnson, the NIT Season Tip-off’s MVP, made a career-best 4 3-pointers in 6 attempts.

“I will tell you this,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “There aren’t many guards that are playing college basketball that are more important to their team or any better than Nick Johnson right now.”

Ashley grabbed 10 rebounds, one shy of his career high, and made both of his 3-point tries.

The Wildcats (8-0) scored the first 10 points of the game and led by 10 points after a sloppy first half. They were up by as many as 23 points in the second half.

Arizona moved up two spots to second in the poll this week after the win over Duke at Madison Square Garden last Friday. The Wildcats took eight hours to get home, having to make two refueling stops on the way, and Miller was a bit concerned about how his team would come out Tuesday.

Arizona wasn’t at its best but was good enough to win by a comfortable margin.

“No question we could have played better at times,” Miller said, “but it’s a long season and it’s difficult to ask for perfection in every game from start to finish.”

Kader Tapsoba and Jaye Crockett scored 11 points each for the Red Raiders (6-3) and Aaron Ross added 10.

It was the highest-scoring game of the season for Gordon, who was 7 of 10 from the field but just 4 of 12 from the free throw line. He had eight rebounds as Arizona dominated the boards 43-23. McConnell had 10 assists, one short of his career best.

“When you play with guys this talented, it makes a point guard look good,” McConnell said. “It makes the point guard’s life easier. As I’ve been saying all year, credit to them because they’re making the plays. I’m just getting them the ball.”

Johnson said they didn’t make enough plays.

“We missed too many shots,” Johnson said. “He should have had 13 (assists).”

Of Johnson’s two missed 3-pointers, one came from midcourt at the halftime buzzer.

Leading 35-25 at halftime, Arizona opened the second half with a 12-2 run. After Gordon’s dunk, McConnell stole the ball in the backcourt and passed to Johnson, who made his fourth 3-pointer to put the Wildcats ahead 44-27 with 17:15 to play. Ashley’s two free throws capped the run and put the Wildcats up 47-27 with 16:35 to go.

Texas Tech, in its first season under coach Tubby Smith, never got closer than 15 points after that.

“They play hard and they made shots tonight,” Smith said of the Wildcats. “You get that type of outside shooting along with a guy like Aaron who is just a tough matchup for anybody. They are very talented, the best team we have played so far. I thought Pittsburgh was pretty good but this is a tough place to play.”

A 6-0 spurt cut the Arizona lead to 60-45 with 8:33 left, but after Gordon missed two free throws, he grabbed a rebound at the other and drove the length of the court for a dunk to make it 62-45 with 7:42 remaining.

The Wildcats, opening a three-game home stand, scored the first 10 points of the game, six by Gordon.

A three-point play by Tapsoba and Crockett’s inside basket cut the lead to 23-18 with 5:18 left in the half.

Johnson hit three 3-pointers in an 11-2 run that gave Arizona a 35-21 lead with 1:56 left.

But after the Wildcats’ 11th turnover, Crockett hit a 10-footer and Randy Onwuasor made two free throws to slice the lead to 35-25 at halftime.

The Red Raiders shot 32 percent in the first half (8 for 25) and were outrebounded 22-9.

After committing 11 turnovers in the first half, the Wildcats had just four in the second.

The Red Raiders don’t play again until Dec. 15, when they are home against Central Arkansas.