Arizona pulls away from Charleston Southern late, young bigs still a work in progress

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

The Arizona Wildcats used a late push to finally shed a stingy Charleston Southern Buccaneers team to open the season.

On one hand, a 82-73 victory against the Charleston Southern Bucs was a humbling experience for the Arizona Wildcats.

But in the same sense, the season opener in McKale Center on Sunday showed vulnerabilities that other teams might take great interest toward in beating the No. 12 team picked to win the Pac-12.

Arizona has size. But it's been overlooked that Sean Miller's best players are not the inside players that can take the team to the promised land. Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Nick Johnson were on the floor late, a symbol of where the experience lies.

That's logical, especially considering the Wildcats needed shooters on the floor. Lyons had 19 points, six assists and no turnovers. He overcame a poor shooting first half to get hot late. Meanwhile, Hill overcame foul trouble to grab an offensive rebound and nail a three-pointer when he returned for good -- he hit 4-of-8 from beyond the arc.

As a team the Wildcats went 11-of-32 from three-point land and struggled with their offense against a packed in zone by Charleston Southern. UA's motion offense was anything but moving as players stood spread out, and shot selection might have been less of an issue than the Wildcats being out of rhythm.

Maybe the most concerning issue was that the shots weren't falling until late. That, and the Arizona big men looking like freshmen.

Brandon Ashley's bread and butter, rebounding, did more than anything. He had 12 points and eight boards while Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett combined for seven points and seven rebounds.

On the defensive end, Arizona had equal trouble stopping Charleston Southern's three-point shooting. While they hit 10-of-28 shots -- by no means an accurate clip -- the Bucs kept in the game well after leading 11-5 at the first media timeout.

With less than eight minutes left in the game, Hill's aforementioned return to the floor turned a slim 59-57 lead into a nine-point Arizona victory, and Lyons and Parrom scored the final 11 points in the last four minute of the game to hold off the Bucs.

The good news? Arizona didn't turn the ball over but eight times, easy to do when Charleston Southern was sitting back and daring UA to shoot threes. The bad? Arizona showed no signs of being willing to get into the paint and use its big men to its advantage.

That said, Ashley showed flashes of Derrick Williams' game, taking the ball in the high post while finding himself at center and using one dribble into the thick of the Bucs' defense.

He went to the foul stripe 12 times and hit eight of the attempts. Arizona's bench scored 32 points and five players hit double figures.

Jordin Mayes found his shooting touch and scored 10 first-half points when Lyons was struggling. Nick Johnson quietly put up 12 points and dished six dimes as UA had 25 assists on 27 made field goals. So who are the Wildcats?

The 18-point, 10-rebound performance from Tarczewski in the preseason was maybe an anomaly. He and Jerrett might be the most intriguing of Arizona's youngsters, but Ashley might be the most ready to do what UA needs out of its big men.

That's fine in a way. Arizona's experience, after all, is in the backcourt and on the wings.

Sunday's season opener reminded us of that.

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