Coming into the Maui Invitational, Arizona's questions were going to be answered with the three games in three days schedule. Arizona was going to have to step up immediately in order to advance to the semi-finals. Of course, Sean Miller wants to win the tournament, but they need to take it one game at a time. The Cats passed the first test on Monday as they defeated the Missouri Tigers 72-53.
The three-point shooting let the team down early in the game as the Wildcats missed their first eight attempts from beyond the arc. Stanley Johnson made the first three-pointer followed up by Elliot Pitts' only points of the afternoon with just over a minute to go in the first half. These six points would be vital as Arizona headed to the locker room with a seven point lead.
As a team, the overall collective performance was very good on both sides of the ball. Brandon Ashley led the way with 10 points with a bunch of high percentage shots, and he was 4-7 from the field. Kaleb Tarczewski was phenomenal on the glass by nabbing seven boards. Finally, T.J. McConnell had an outstanding five assists and three steals to lead the offense.
One thing that really stood out today were the turnovers, or rather, lack thereof. Zona only turned the ball over a total of six times during the course of the 40 minutes, which is a vast improvement from the first three games of the season. Meanwhile, the defense was extremely active as they forced 17 and turned those into quick, easy points.
Missouri doesn't have a whole lot of experience as they are a fairly young team, with a brand new head coach so they are going to go through growing pains and today was one of those days. Arizona's athleticism was just too much in the end as the Tigers began to wear down defensively.
The Tank: During the game, ESPN showed a clip of TJ McConnell describing freshman phenom Stanley Johnson. The senior point guard called him a tank and it showed one point. With a little over 10 minutes to go in the game, Johnson stole the ball in the back court and slammed the ball with authority, which really gave Arizona the momentum that would continue to carry over for the rest of the game. He finished the game with 14 points and five rebounds. It's only a matter of time before he has his break out game.
Improved Free Throw Shooting: The obvious struggle in our offense last year was the lack of free throw shooting from just about everybody. It felt like Arizona could have easily won three more games had the team just made three or four more free throws. But hey, that's life and in life, you move on. There has been a vast improvement in the overall percentage of made free throws. Today, the Wildcats sunk 76% of their attempts from the charity strike, making 19 of 26 shots. If this trend continues, it will help the team in close games as we get into tight PAC-12 games down the stretch.
Up next for the Cats are the well, Cats of Kansas State tomorrow evening. K-State will be a much harder test of Arizona in the semifinal matchup of the Maui Invitational. They are a very active defensive team that will pressure every opposition that they face no matter who it may be. This will be a very good test for Sean Miller and the rest of the squad early in the non-conference schedule.