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Arizona Wildcats basketball: Defense keys win against UTEP Miners

The Arizona Wildcats used attacking man defense to bolster a victory against the UTEP Miners at McKale Center.

Stephen Dunn

Determining fool's gold is difficult this early in the season.

An unimpressive victory to open the season against Charleston Southern made the Arizona Wildcats look like a work in progress, but Thursday's 72-51 victory over what appeared to be a talented UTEP Miners team made that all but forgotten.

One of those might be an anomaly. That, or Sean Miller coached up his ball club and either gave them a sense of urgency or cleaned up defensive problems that allowed Charleston Southern to rain threes upon the Wildcats.

Against the Miners, the Wildcats never trailed.

Arizona used hounding man defense to hold UTEP to 36 percent from the field and abused the interior despite the Miners having pretty decent size. The Wildcats outrebounded UTEP 35-15 (apparently, that is not a box score error) and fouled out the Miners' starting big men, 6-foot-10 forward John Bohannon and 6-foot-9 forward Cedrick Lang.

Bohannon, who scored 17 to lead UTEP in its season opener, scored no points and grabbed one rebound. Lang fouled out with two points and two rebounds.

The freshman threesome up front for Miller combined for 24 points and 18 rebounds as Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski responded following subpar efforts against Charleston Southern. Brandon Ashley again led the trio with nine points off the bench, and sophomore Angelo Chol was equally effective.

The Wildcats overcame 19 turnovers with solid ball movement against a man defense of UTEP and head coach Tim Floyd.

And about the only thing the Miners had going were brothers Julian and Chris Washburn. The lengthy wings scored 11 points each.

Mark Lyons again led the Wildcats with 17 points. But in this one, he didn't show all that well from a distribution front, dropping a single assist and turning the ball over three times. However, with this roster and with this system, that's not something to complain much about.

Solomon Hill led the team with four assists and was second in scoring with 10 points. Arizona had no other players in double figures, but they shot 49 percent from the floor in a balanced, unselfish attack. Jordin Mayes added three assists backing up Lyons.

And unlike the Charleston Southern outing, UA was stroking it from distance, hitting 9-of-18 from long range. Hill hit 2-of-3, Lyons 3-of-6 and Jerrett hit 2-of-3 to give Arizona an early lead.

The Wildcats also looked to be in attack mode. Physicality was key.

Hill didn't go to the foul stripe in the game but on two drives attacked the rim with force. Both times he lost the ball, but his penetration drew help defense that the UA bigs took advantage of. Tarczewski and Chol both rolled to the rim and took balls floating through the air on the jump and slammed them with force into the basket.

That was representative of Arizona's interior dominance and the inside play that won them a 21-point victory despite all the miscues.

Consistency might be the next thing to ask. With the biggest problem -- defense -- being fixed so quickly by Miller and company, Thursday night's game was promising after the underwhelming season opener.