Arizona basketball's 77-44 win against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks on Monday sent the team into the Christmas break with a week to get healthy and a number of items on the to-do list. A perfect record doesn't mean perfection, but with so many good things happening for Sean Miller's club, the lackluster victory against a struggling team at least sets some obvious goals until the Pac-12 opener against Wazzu on Jan. 2.
Nick Johnson wasn't part of the issues. He went 7-for-10 from the floor, hit three three-pointers and wasn't hesitant in searching out his own shot.
To nitpick the negatives, power forward Brandon Ashley had another rough go as the fill-in center with Kaleb Tarczewski out with a sprained ankle. Unlike Johnson, Ashley hunted down shot attempts either out of the rhythm or too often too far from the basket. He's now gone 7-for-21 in the last two games, but the good news is it hasn't stopped his aggression on the other end. Ashley finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and plenty of altered shots.
Aaron Gordon followed up a career scoring game against Southern with another somewhat quiet outing. His impact was overshadowed by fellow freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. In his second game as a starter, the small forward scored 14 points to go with eight rebounds, a steal and a block.
The Wildcats led 21-15 with 6:47 left in the first half, but what seemed like a hopeful start for the Lumberjacks fell apart quickly. Arizona went on a 17-0 run over the next five minutes and held a 41-17 lead at halftime. It wasn't just a rout -- there was substance to it. Miller had the Wildcats using a rare fullcourt press late in the first half, and that forced three turnovers in the final two minutes.
The little challenges stood out and in a sure-fire win, they could mean the difference between a sleepy start to Pac-12 play or a sound one.
The pace on Monday was slow. NAU finished with 18 turnovers, and Arizona's conservative play led to just five of their own. Though the Wildcats scored 23 points off turnovers, only six points came on fastbreaks. It was a halfcourt game, but a fine offensive night, as 16 of the Wildcats' 26 field goals were assisted upon. Arizona shot 48 percent and hit 7-of-13 threes, meanwhile holding the Lumberjacks to 36 percent from the floor.
It was methodical, but certainly not dominating.
Despite the opportunity to find depth, Miller didn't play his extended bench very much. Matt Korcheck saw first-half minutes with the regular rotation, and Jordin Mayes gained a sliver of confidence that's been lacking for more than a year. He had five points, two assists, a steal and no turnovers.
The nicest bench performance came from Gabe York, who scored 10 points, shared the ball well to record four assists and also picked up four steals.
The No. 1 team in the nation seemed in cruise control, but Sean Miller didn't play NAU like it was a throw-away game. Despite the blowout at hand being quite clear going into the second half, Miller continued to ride his starters, even bringing them back into the game with eight minutes left a a 25-point lead. The garbage-time contributors didn't enter for another six minutes.
It was a message that this is the end of nonconference road. The Wildcats can revive themselves for a week, but after that, the opponents will be trying to rip that No. 1 label clean off Arizona's back.