When the dust settled in Tucson, Arizona came away clear and deserved winners as Sean Miller and Co. defeated the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs, 91-65, as the focus now shifts to Gonzaga this Saturday.
Coming fresh off of their championship in Maui the Wildcats started very sluggish. They were back into the habits of turning ball over due to their own sloppy play. Gardner-Webb, out of the Big South Conference, liked to shoot the ball from beyond the three-point arc, but they were coming into this game making well under 40 percent of their attempts.
The Bulldogs went cold from the field late in the half, partially due to Arizona picking it up on the defensive end, starting with T.J. McConnell. The visitors ended the half making just 10 baskets. Stanley Johnson hit a couple of three's in the first 20 minutes as he ended the half leading all scorers with 11 points while also grabbing six rebounds, two of them on the offensive glass. Kaleb Tarczewski played an important role near the rim as Arizona was the much bigger team -- Zeus was able to get a few easy baskets while pulling down five boards himself. To end the half, Arizona went on an 11-0 run to push the lead to 12 points.
But the second half started about the same way as the first. Gardner-Webb made three after three as it went on an 8-2 run to cut the lead to just eight in the early going. By the time seven minutes went by, the Bulldogs would be down just three points. Just like in the first half, the visitors would hit a lull in their game and go on a four minute scoreless run until Tyrone Nelson, who was one of their better players tonight, made a free throw. During this stretch of time, however, the Cats would open up a fairly large lead as the 'Dogs went cold from the field.
Gabe York definitely earned his player of the game honor as he finished as the evening's leading scorer with 18 points -- half of his points came off of the three ball. It was a well-rounded evening though ,as multiple Cats scored double digits with Stanley Johnson getting 18 more while grabbing 8 boards. Tarczewski finished with 10 and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson came off the bench to score an important 11 points as he made five out of his eight attempts from the floor while also finishing with four assists, one block, and one steal.
Slow-Starts: If the Wildcats continue to get off to slow starts then eventually it will come back to bite them. Fortunately, Gardner-Webb is picked to finish low in their conference and it showed late in both halves as the Cats pulled away in the end.
During the Maui tournament, the squad had too many careless mistakes but cleaned up its decision making, only endingthe night with eight turnovers. On the plus side of things, though, McConnell and Parker Jackson-Cartwright combined for 15 assists and just 1 turnover, which will lead to more victories than losses as the season progress and gets into conference play.
Looking Ahead: Of course we can't end this recap without mentioning the huge game this Saturday evening against Gonzaga. On Tuesday night, those Bulldogs got off to a slow start against SE Louisiana but eventually won by more than 20 points. It's going to be a tough test matching up with Kevin Pangos and Domantas Sabonis but if Arizona can get off to a quicker start while holding onto the ball and make baskets at a higher consistency, then it should be in good shape.