You all know the saying, "defense wins championships," but it also wins games too. Tim Floyd's squad definitely pushed Arizona to the brink of defeat, but it was the Wildcats who came away the victors in El Paso winning the game by a final score of 60-55 against the Conference - USA opponent.
Arizona got off to a hot start to its first true road game of the season in West Texas as they led 15-2 at one point during the first half. This was aided by the Cats' ferocious defense as they forced UTEP into five early turnovers and turned those into easy buckets down on the other end.
It was Vincent Hunter who took charge of the first half, though, and made the visitors pay for their mistakes. He grabbed six offensive rebounds and nine total boards, while ending the half with 14 points. Our old friend Tim Floyd threw multiple defensive looks at Sean Miller's squad including a 1-3-1 which caused Zona all sorts of frustration as they ended the half shooting below 50% from the field despite making their first six buckets on the evening, including two 3-pointers. As the Miners were clawing their way back into the game, the Don Haskins Center erupted in their first full house since 2010. Momentum seemingly went the way of Arizona when the half came to a close as Stanley Johnson got a good bounce off of the rim after T.J. McConnell kept the ball alive with some great hustle and an even better pass to Johnson to put the Cats up three at the half.
In the second half, freshman point guard Omega Harris provided the spark for El Paso with his quick hands and ability to make threes off the bounce. That led UTEP on a 7-0 run to take the lead for the first time in the game by a score of 40-38. After Johnson missed his second free throw to bring the Cats back within one, Harris tried a spectacular dunk down on the other hand but lost the ball going up. Vince Hunter picked up his fifth foul with 8:09 left to go in the game as Johnson was breaking towards the basket. McConnell followed that with an easy bucket by running along the baseline and banking it off the backboard. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson then stole the ball from Washburn and laid it off to Gabe York on the break, who dunked it to silence the crowd a bit. The Miners really missed having Hunter on the court as they shot worse without the sophomore.
T.J. McConnell: The senior point guard has had a very inconsistent start to his season, but played a very well-rounded game tonight on the road. He made good plays on both sides of the ball. McConnell didn't shoot very much again, but made baskets when it mattered the most. But when all was said and done, he finished the night with nine points, eight assists, seven rebounds, three steals, and one victory (I'm sorry).
Free Throws: We've talked about free throws for what seems like forever now and they continue to be a problem. As we edge closer and closer to conference play, Sean Miller should be a little concerned with how many easy points they left on the court as Arizona missed 12 attempts from the charity stripe after going to the line 27 times throughout the game. This will have to be better and quickly as better PAC-12 schools will make us pay for leaving those points on the floor.
For the UTEP perspective, visit Miner Rush