The glitz of playing at Madison Square Garden didn't get to them. Neither did the fact that the Arizona Wildcats' opponent, the St. John's Red Storm, essentially had a home game in Thursday night's 2K Sports Classic.
The Wildcats played in a fun-to-watch, back-and-forth game that resulted in another 8-to-10 point victory. Again, it was a second-half surge that lifted No. 15 Arizona (4-0) to a 81-72 win. Solomon Hill led the charge with 15 points, six rebounds and four assists.
And again, Kyle Fogg played incredible defense down the stretch run that saw Arizona come back from a 66-58 deficit with 7:01 to play. Fogg drew two clutch charging calls -- one of which fouled out hot-shooting guard Nurideen Lindsey -- and hit a key 3-pointer with 3:42 to put Arizona ahead 72-68. In the end, Arizona outscored St. John's 23-6 in the final seven minutes. Fogg scored 13 and had six assists.
All in all, Thursday was the best offensive performance of the young season for UA.
I've been first to criticize the apparent lack of shooting, and the 1-3-1 trapping zone that the Wildcats mostly destroyed proved to be vitamins for a formerly stale Wildcat offense. Arizona went 14-for-18 from 3-point range, picking apart St. John's traps.
Luckily for Arizona, the Johnnies struggled to capitalize and remain imposing in the paint. Even with a clear advantage in speed and athleticism, St. John's didn't use that in the rebounding department.
Arizona won that battle 32-31 and gained 11 more shots thanks to turning the ball over nine times to the Red Storm's 16.
St. John's got to the rack at will, and their 30 free throws proved it as Nurideen Lindsey and company blew by Arizona defenders seemingly at will. Lindsey dropped 18 to lead St. John's.
Point guard play for Arizona was key. Jordin Mayes again started and scored 12 points. Josiah Turner returned after sitting out last game, and displayed his speed by twice making steals off perimeter passes that led to two fastbreak scores.
He showed that he's still a knucklehead, too. Turner jumped off the bench and ran fullcourt after Fogg got tangled up with a St. John's player during a break in the action. That won't earn Turner more playing time.
But of course, the storyline of the evening, forward Kevin Parrom, made his mark in his return to his home town in New York.
Parrom nailed two 3-pointers in the first half and dished out four assists.
What's it mean?
Thursday was the smoothest the offense has looked. The Wildcats ball movement increased greatly without the man-on-man ball pressure, and it's perhaps a blessing in disguise; the team gained confidence with its open, set jumpers being readily available.
In addition, the Wildcats proved they could overcome an athletically superior team. Overall, the game was up and down because it was a chess match of Miller's team's execution trying to deal with a very fast-moving St. John's team. Arizona handled it well, but it's a wonder whether they could compete against that level of athleticism, say, if St. John's played with Arizona's defense. I feel like their zone played into UA's hands, but that's up for debate.
Turnovers turned out to be the key. St. John's looked like the young team they are down the stretch, and would this game to be replayed with the same rosters a year from now (next year's recruits not included), something tells me it would be an even closer affair.
- Jesse Perry scored 11 and grabbed nine rebounds.
- Nick Johnson scored 11, including a 3-pointer with 2:27 to put UA ahead 77-70.