Arizona's defense was on point against the NAU Lumberjacks, and on the other end of the floor the Wildcats moved the ball to find open shooters en route to a big Wednesday victory.
The NAU Lumberjacks didn't come into Wednesday's game as the best of shooting teams -- far from it.
The Arizona Wildcats, however, magnified NAU's shooting woes with a vigilant effort on defense while turning in a free-flowing offensive performance to drop the Lumberjacks 93-50 in McKale Center. Sean Miller's team shot 58 percent from the floor and hit 12-of-21 three-pointers, and it limited first-year coach Jack Murphy's NAU squad to 37 percent shooting and just 5-of-17 from long range.
NAU's backcourt duo of freshman Dewayne Russell and Gabe Rogers that has thus far been good for 30 points a night struggled. They combined to shoot 8-of-26 from the field and score 20 points.
Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons led the way, connecting on 3-of-4 three-pointers each. Lyons led UA with 18 points, Hill scored 17, and Nick Johnson added 10 while doing everything else. The sophomore guard hit all three of his field goal attempts, got to the foul line six times and led the Wildcats with seven assists and four steals.
While the rebounding margin turned to Arizona's favor as the game wore on, it was a product of the Wildcats simply getting better shots and then making more than the Lumberjacks. NAU was stuck shooting jumpers and only got to the foul stripe nine times, unwilling to test Arizona's front line. Meanwhile, Arizona scored 21 points from the free throw line.
And about that rebounding margin: the Wildcats won it 35-24, and it turned out that NAU's leading board man was Russell, the generously-listed 5-foot-11 point guard, who had six rebounds Wednesday.
Arizona had an unimpressive 39-26 lead at the half, and it wasn't much to do with anything other than making shots.
Of course, the reoccurring theme for a Sean Miller-coached team facing an undersized and overmatched opponent appeared in the second half.
From the first media timeout of the second half to the 5:09 mark -- more than 10 game minutes -- NAU only scored from the field on two three-pointers off a turnover and off an offensive rebound, a testament to Arizona's halfcourt defense performing nearly perfectly, especially when they had time to set up. Meanwhile, Arizona's offense that led 53-31 went on a 27-9 run to go ahead 80-39.
With 10 points, Angelo Chol was the forth Arizona player in double-figures, and got them more by hustle plays and post-entry passes than anything his limited offensive repertoire could produce. Chol and Grant Jerrett (seven points and four rebounds) looked raw with their interior post play, but on Wednesday it was their length that showed how they can still make notable impacts for the Wildcats -- even if it did come against an NAU team with no player taller than 6-foot-8.
In the starting lineup, Kaleb Tarczewski had a quiet yet effective game with six points, six rebounds and two blocks. He too looked far from a finished product, once getting posted by Max Jacobsen, an undersized forward.
And again, Brandon Ashley showed why he's in the starting lineup and perhaps the most useful of the freshmen to this point. He grabbed team-highs with 11 rebounds and had three blocks while adding three assists.
Let's be negative for a second
Perhaps the biggest downside in Wednesday's win -- if we must always find one -- was the play of Lyons. The senior point guard led UA in scoring and wasn't inefficient in that regard. Still, he had stretches of erratic play and turned the ball over three times to go with two assists. Perhaps this was the apprehension that outsiders voiced about his role at Xavier.
On one play, Lyons was mildly pressured in the backcourt and simply lost the ball out of bounds on a high dribble. That's something Miller didn't appreciate.
But as far as roles go, Lyons not putting up four or five assists a night isn't that big of a deal in Miller's offense. The motion doesn't require a lead guard to do all that much, a reason that Jordin Mayes is just fine in the offense by bringing the ball up before becoming a jump shooter.
Some nights, like on Wednesday, Nick Johnson will lead the team in assists. Other nights, it'll be Solomon Hill or even Kevin Parrom. Still, it'd be nice to see Lyons be a little more careful; at least, so long as he remains aggressive.