Arizona-Mississippi St. Preview
Arizona coach Sean Miller knows his team is far from where he would like them to be, but he can't complain about the early results.
The No. 15 Wildcats look to remain undefeated when they face another stiff challenge Friday night against Mississippi State in the finals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Arizona (4-0) used a 16-2 run to overcome an eight-point second-half deficit to beat feisty St. John's 81-72 in Thursday's tournament semifinals. Though the Wildcats shot a season-low 41.7 percent from the field, they went a season-high 14 of 29 (48.3 percent) from 3-point range.
They overcame a 51.1-percent shooting performance from the Red Storm by forcing 17 turnovers to help the program improve to 12-1 at Madison Square Garden since 1990.
"I don't think we're great right now by any stretch of the imagination but we're a lot further down the road than we were,'' Miller said. "We are so far away from where we want to be but we have fought through a lot with a young team. We're working through a lot of things and as we do it's gratifying to get the wins we have.''
Solomon Hill scored 15 points, Kyle Fogg added 13 with six assists and Jesse Perry finished with 11 and 10 rebounds as the Wildcats opened with four consecutive victories for the second straight season.
"We're fortunate to win a game like this in November being so far from home,'' Miller said.
At 14.3 points per game, Fogg is one of five Arizona players averaging in double figures.
Junior reserve and Bronx native Kevin Parrom scored six points in 19 minutes Thursday in his first game in New York since he suffered a gunshot wound to his right leg on Sept. 23 while visiting family there.
Arizona likely will need to count on that depth further Friday against a Mississippi State squad that pulled off a 69-60 upset of No. 19 Texas A&M in Thursday's first semifinal contest.
Guard Dee Bost scored 20 points for the Bulldogs (3-1), who hit 10 of their 13 shots from the field in taking a 22-point lead. They managed to hang on despite shooting just 40.7 percent for game.
"That was a little bit of fool's gold, making five 3s like that,'' Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said of his team's hot start. "Texas A&M is a good basketball team and I knew we weren't going to maintain that kind of shooting. But I did like our defense, we were pushing them out and we controlled the flow at both ends.''
Mississippi State has won two straight since losing 68-58 at home to Akron on Nov. 9.
A preseason first-team all-SEC selection, Bost has averaged a team-leading 18.0 points through the first four games.
"Dee Bost was hard for us to contain,'' Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "He's not just a good player, he's a good four-year player.''
The Bulldogs have not won consecutive games against Top 25 teams since beating No. 17 Florida and No. 25 South Carolina during the 2003-04 season.
This championship contest marks the first meeting between the schools since Arizona beat Mississippi State 68-64 on Dec. 5, 2004.