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Arizona basketball: Three things we learned from the Wildcats’ blowout of New Mexico

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It was over by the first media timeout

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats invited the New Mexico Lobos back to McKale Center on Tuesday night for the first time in 17 years, to reignite an old, storied rivalry.

But it was quickly revealed that this isn’t your father’s Arizona-New Mexico rivalry. The Lobos, perhaps, wish they hadn’t accepted the invitation in the first place.

The Wildcats came out firing and delivered a Christmas present to all of their fans — a wire-to-wire clobbering of one of their oldest foes, defeating New Mexico, 77-46.

The 31-point win is Arizona’s largest of the season to date and is their fifth consecutive victory. They head into a 10-day holiday break at 11-2 and playing their best basketball of the season.

Here’s three things we learned from Arizona’s lopsided win...

STAGGERING SUBSTITUTIONS

This game was over early. After all, the only time the lead was single-digits was before the Lobos were able to even score a point, as Arizona opened the game with a 12-0 run.

But, coming off Arizona’s win over Texas A&M, that saw the Wildcats have a 20 point lead cut to two in the final moments, something certainly needed to change. The Wildcats couldn’t afford to have another supposed blowout fall by the wayside.

The reason that happened this past Saturday morning was that the Wildcats ran out of gas. Four Wildcats exceeded 35 minutes logged in that game.

I love how Sean Miller and the Wildcats responded to that on Tuesday night, consistently making substitutions, never keeping the same five on the floor for longer than four minutes. Only Kobi Simmons came close to that 35 minute mark as he played 34 minutes.

Now, this substitution strategy was obviously helped by the fact that the Wildcats had zero foul trouble to contend with, always a nice perk when you have depth issues. Also, all seven Wildcats were playing well.

But I think it’s important to note the way Arizona consistently got all of their guys a breather. Having mostly fresh legs throughout the game made a world of difference and contributed to this game never being close.

COMANCHE BREAKS OUT

All seven of Arizona’s rotation players have seen their ups and downs this season.

Perhaps the only player of the seven that hadn’t seen near as many ups as he’s seen downs is Chance Comanche.

The 6’11” sophomore had struggled in out of conference games with inconsistent play and mental mistakes aplenty.

But Comanche, much like the rest of the Wildcats, enters the holiday break feeling more confidence than ever as he stole the show against New Mexico last night.

He led the team in scoring with a career-high 14 points, shot a perfect 6-6 from the field, including five rim-rocking dunks that helped Arizona’s momentum throughout the big victory. On the other end, he blocked a shot and effected even more. He also snagged eight rebounds, tying his season-high.

This could not have come at a better time for Chance Comanche or Arizona. He’s been relied on this year and hadn’t yet delivered. He delivered in spades on Tuesday night and may have given all of Tucson a sneak peek of what his future holds.

THE WILDCATS LOOK READY FOR THE PAC-12

The Pac-12 has some serious talent at the top. The UCLA Bruins are the second ranked team in the nation at 12-0 with some marquee victories. The USC Trojans are also undefeated. And, the preseason favorite to win the conference, the Oregon Ducks, have won nine in a row and, much like Arizona, aren’t even at full strength yet.

But after watching these Wildcats fight through, what’s felt like, non-stop adversity, Arizona is right in the mix with those teams.

There’s no telling who will be in the rotation as we head into conference play. Allonzo Trier’s impending status and Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s healing ankle could pay dividends as we hit January.

But, even in the worst case scenario of having only seven scholarship guys, the Wildcats appear to have figured out their best basketball at both ends of the floor.