The win snaps UA’s two-game losing streak, as it improves to 5-2 heading into Sunday’s road game at UConn.
Chase Jeter had a game-high 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Brandon Randolph and Brandon Williams each scored 14 points, but the story of the night was Arizona’s bench.
It accounted for 47 points, as Alex Barcello (16) and Dylan Smith (10) both provided an unforeseen scoring punch, after the unit scored 19 points across three games in the Maui Invitational.
“We have a hard working group, I’ve said that all along,” said UA coach Sean Miller. “I think we have a group of guys that really care about winning and they’re trying their best and we’ve improved. If we would’ve played Georgia Southern before we went to Maui, I don’t think the score would have been as lopsided as it was tonight.
“Our bench tonight was terrific and we’re not going to get this type of production from them every night, but I think it shows that we have a lot of different players who can come in the game and contribute.”
Barcello’s 16 points were a career high. The sophomore guard went 6 for 10 from the field, draining a pair of 3s. Smith continued his enigmatic season by sinking two 3s of his own.
Devonaire Doutrive, who finally cracked the rotation, had a career-high eight points in 11 minutes and electrified the crowd by throwing a behind-the-back pass to Barcello for a layup late in the second half.
“It was a clever play,” Miller said. “But that’s part of what I think Devonaire brings to the table. He’s no dummy out there. He knows what he’s doing. He has a great sense and feel for the game and it’s just a matter of him understanding how important defense is, being in the right position.”
Barcello wasn’t surprised by Doutrive’s feed because “I know he can play” and nothing about the bench’s performance was surprising to Smith.
“We knew it was going to come around,” he said. “The bench didn’t really do that well in Maui, so it wasn’t as much as people were nervous, shots just weren’t falling. We just gotta play with confidence when we’re out there. Devonaire did. He played big out there tonight.”
The Wildcats shot 51 percent as a team and held Georgia Southern, one of the most efficient offenses in the country, to 39 percent shooting. Equally impressive, Arizona had 22 assists to just six turnovers, a far cry from Maui when the offense often stagnated.
“I don’t know which number is better,” Miller said. “I don’t care what team you’re playing against or what the score is, any coach would take a group of guys that plays the game with only six turnovers. We had two in the second half. ... I think it shows you that we were ready to go and move the ball. We had some really good practices when we got back from Maui and I think our guys learned a lot about themselves and hopefully we can continue to develop.”
Arizona was up 45-32 at the half and maintained a double-digit lead through the final 20 minutes, leading by as many as 34 points.
It erased a forgettable start.
Sean Miller made a slight alteration to the starting lineup by replacing Ryan Luther with Emmanuel Akot — for matchup and confidence purposes, he said — and it probably didn’t yield the result he wanted.
The Wildcats missed 12 of their first 16 shots, as the Eagles captured a 15-10 lead midway through the first half.
But Arizona quickly turned it around with Williams leading the way with 10 first-half points. Not too long after he hit a pair of 3s, the freshman posterized a GSU defender with a one-handed slam to put Arizona up 37-25 with 3:35 left.
Smith drilled a 3 to make it 40-29 and Luther sank a triple from the corner to give UA a 13-point lead heading into the locker room.
Nine different Wildcats scored in the first half. Akot made a layup late in the second half to become UA’s 10th scorer.
Doutrive made a rare early appearance and immediately drove to the basket for a layup. Barcello had five first-half points, then 11 in the second half.
Barcello had gone scoreless in four straight games.
“We’ve really stayed with him and he’s one of our hardest workers,” Miller said. “We watch him every day in practice and through the long hours of the summer and fall preparing, and it’s just a matter of him playing with confidence, knowing that we want him to shoot the ball. We tried to get him in a game a little bit earlier and sometimes if you sit there for eight minutes of game time, it’s not easy just to come in and make the first shot. So the fact he made six of them is a great sign.”
Jeter came alive in the second half, scoring 11 of his points in the period. He notched seven points in the first three minutes alone to bump the Wildcats’ lead to 18, and later hit two free throws to make it a 20-point game.
Jeter, a career 56 percent free-throw shooter, went 10 for 12 from the charity stripe. He was the beneficiary of some terrific passes by Williams, who finished with six assists.
Randolph one-upped Jeter by going 6 for 6 from the line. The Wildcats were 22 for 29 as a team. They outrebounded the Eagles, 42-34, holding their small frontline to just four second-chance points.
A reporter asked Miller if he was happy about Arizona’s response following the Maui Invitational, seeing that it “could have gone the other way” after two losses.
“No it can’t,” Miller said defiantly. “It’s November. If you’re holding us to the standard of ‘I cannot believe that you didn’t beat Auburn or Gonzaga,’ you’re in the planet Pluto. They’re really, really good teams. (Gonzaga is) the No. 1 team in the nation and Auburn is going to be one of the top seeds. Auburn won the SEC last year and they could win it again this year. They have everybody back and they added (Austin) Wiley. We lost our top seven or eight players.
“So, no, we’re not going to fold and you’re not going to go down that path. We’re a team that’s going to lose a few (games), but that doesn’t mean we can’t be a good team and a team that’s better than everybody thinks. But if you’re going to point the finger that ‘man, you lost two games in Maui and your team’s going to go south’, that’s not happening. That’s not going to happen here.”