While many other high-seeded teams struggled with their first round match ups, Arizona wasted no time taking care of business en route to a 92-71 win to open the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 15-2 run as both the offense and defense were dominant from the beginning. Arizona's offense converted on 5 of their first 6 shots while the defense forced Texas Southern to miss 7 of their first 8 shots.
Coming into the game, it was evident that the Wildcats were going to have a size advantage on Texas Southern. Arizona out rebounded the Tigers 18-10 in the first half, although Texas Southern did have four offensive rebounds.
It really showed on the defensive end though as Texas Southern had no one to protect the rim, and Arizona was able to get anything they wanted in the paint either resulting in an easy basket or free throws. As a team, the Wildcats shot 69% in the first half and had their highest scoring first half of the season with 54 points. They also made all 12 of their free throw attempts.
Texas Southern, on the other hand, predictably had trouble generating good looks in the half court, but they did have success in transition. Sean Miller said at halftime that Arizona's transition defense was disappointing. The Tigers managed to score 33 points in the first half, and shot 41% from the field. Normally that'd be a good performance against Arizona, but since the Cats rarely missed in the first half, the Tigers found themselves down 54-33.
Here's the first half box score:
With Ashley and Zeus in foul trouble, we even got to see some Matt Korcheck in the first half. Arizona's starters, especially, Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, had incredible first halves. They both scored efficiently and played great perimeter defense.
Stanley Johnson got a pass from Parker Jackson-Cartwright in semi-transition and finished emphatically above the rim:
With the game already out of hand, it felt like Arizona just coasted to the finish line. They still played well, but the intensity understandably wasn't the same.
Stanley Johnson led the offense with 11 second half points, including three second half three-pointers. He finished with a career-high 22 points and he a made a career-high four three pointers.
Arizona couldn't quite keep up the ridiculous offensive pace that they put up in the first half, but they still managed to finish at over 60% from the field. It is a little concerning that the Wildcats allowed Texas Southern to shoot 47% in this one, but with the game out of reach so early, it's hard for a team to keep up their defensive intensity all game.
Rondae said after the game that "it wasn't a good defensive performance for us at all". Look for them to come out with a better defensive showing in the Round of 32.
Offensively, it was an extremely balanced effort for Arizona in this one. All five starters finished in double-figures and Stanley and Rondae combined for 45 points. Rondae had his fourth double-double of the season. Here's the final box score:
Free throw shooting is always seen as a weakness for Arizona, but that certainly wasn't the case today. After making all 12 in the first half, the Cats went 12-15 from the stripe in the second half.
Also, there wasn't a lot of bench production in this one as the bench combined to go 4-12 from the field.
All in all, Arizona avoided the upset and was dominant in the process. There are certainly things for the Wildcats to work on before their next game, like transition defense, but they're playing solid basketball right now.
In other news, the Baylor Bears, the three seed in Arizona's bracket, fell to Georgia State on a game-winner by R.J. Hunter. Arizona's road to the Elite Eight just got a lot easier.
Arizona will play the winner of the VCU-Ohio State game on Saturday.