Rhode Island vs. Arizona final score: Nick Johnson leads balanced UA attack

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats dropped Rhode Island and face Drexel in the NIT Tip-Off tournament semifinals next week.

From game-to-game, it'll often be hard to choose which of the Arizona Wildcats played the best, and maybe it's worth mentioning the competition so far hasn't been great. But in an 87-59 victory against the Rhode Island Rams that sends Arizona to New York for the semifinals of the 2013 NIT Season Tip-Off tournament, Nick Johnson was an easy choice for player of the game.

Johnson recorded his first career double-double and finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists . He went out in style after a one-handed dunk off a baseline cut, a symbol of the Wildcats' continued abuse of overwhelmed opponents.


The Wildcats' next opponent is Drexel, who they'll face Nov. 27 in New York thanks to the Dragons' upset of Rutgers in the other prong of the NIT bracket.

But while Tuesday was a night showcasing Johnson, the assumed leader now that Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom are gone, it wasn't just about him.

Sean Miller's team is balanced, and to win it doesn't need any one player to play perfectly every single night. To make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, that may change, of course. Now, not so much.

The Wildcats hit 58 percent of their shots while holding the Rams to 37 percent and 2-of-12 from three-point range.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson looks like a sixth starter and scored 13 points off the bench. Brandon Ashley brushed off a rough first half to finish with 16 points, Aaron Gordon did Aaron Gordon things (12 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks), and T.J. McConnell finished with five assists and three steals.

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The minor quibbles include poor foul shooting, a lapse in the second half and a start that was less-than-stellar. The inconsistencies from the starting frontline are between Kaleb Tarczewski's foul trouble, and Gordon and Ashley's overzealous jumpshooting to start the game.

From a wider lens, depth could be the most concerning issue for Arizona.

Miller gave his extended bench a few minutes in the heart of the second half, but Elliott Pitts and company got sloppy. URI cut into a lead that for a brief moment reached 31 points, forcing Johnson and McConnell to return to calm the Wildcats.

The sequence of the game came just as the Rams cut the lead to 19 with 8:46 left in the game. Off another of Arizona's 14 turnovers, Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews pushed the ball and attempting to attacking Gordon, ran into the UA forward, who went straight up and blocked Matthews' shot attempt with both hands. Hollis-Jefferson took the loose ball the length of the court, hesitated to patiently look at his options at the foul stripe, and found York for a three from the left corner.

If Hollis-Jefferson is the sixth starter, York is the seventh. He scored eight, but he and Hollis-Jefferson were the only significant contributors off the pine.

Even though Tarczewski struggled with foul trouble, there weren't any signs of Miller tinkering with Matt Korcheck or Zach Peters until garbage time. Jordin Mayes earned a few minutes in the first half but his absence gave way to Pitts in the second.

The positives, obviously, are outweighing the negatives.

Arizona, after all, hasn't played a team that can stretch the Wildcat big men out of the paint. Drexel hit 8-of-17 threes against a long and athletic Rutgers team on Monday, and it may pose a very different test for the Wildcats next week.

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