Arizona showed improvement but also room for more, as it defeated Humboldt State 60-51 in the final game before Monday's season opener.
"There was definitely a big change for us from the first game, especially from Jesse Perry and Kyryl Natyazhko," Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. "They tried hard to get the rebound and really showed a good effort. We rebounded a lot better tonight and that was a key factor into the result."
Humboldt State opened up a 5-2 lead early in the game when senior Randy Hunter hit a three to start and was also able to get to the line a few plays later and make both free throws. Josiah Turner answered and cut the lead to 5-4 before Arizona turned it over, as the Wildcats had five turnovers less than five minutes into the first half.
The early trouble did not end there, however, as Humboldt State rattled off a basket by Hunter, Matt Kipski, and then a three-pointer by Austin Bryan to force Sean Miller to call timeout with his team down 12-4. Coming out of the timeout, Kyle Baxter was able to get a bucket and Angelo Chol was called for a foul, as Tavin Hurley hit two free throws to extend the lead to 15-4.
Natyazhko then stopped the run singlehandedly with consecutive putbacks, including a dunk that cut it to 16-8. However, Baxter came right back with a layup and Humboldt State still looked comfortable as it held on to the lead. Arizona cut it to single digits a few minutes later as Perry scored on a rebound and ensuing free throw to make it 23-14.
The Lumberjacks maintained their lead for the next few minutes due in large part to the play of Clark, who at one point had seven straight points for them. Humboldt State led 25-18 with about five minutes left in the first half, but Brendon Lavender hit a three-pointer to cut it to four and get the crowd back into it. Solomon Hill then hit a jumper in the lane to cut it to two, but Greg Leslie came right back and hit a three to stop the Arizona run and bring it back up to five.
Similar to the Seattle Pacific game, Nick Johnson;s offense got Arizona back into the game, as he hit two free throws and then a layup to cut the lead to one. Turner then hit two free throws and Arizona had the lead with a minute and a half left in the first half. The lead lasted seconds, however, as Leslie hit a three. Perry then tied the game with a layup and Arizona got a three by Kyle Fogg to go into halftime with a 34-31 lead.
The teams exchanged numerous trips to the free throw line to begin the second half, as the deficit to end the first half basically remained with the Wildcats leading 37-35 a little under five minutes into the second half. The Wildcats extended that lead to five with about 11 minutes to go as Perry made two from the line. Turner then led a break and found Johnson cutting to get it to seven, but D.J. Broome made a layup to cut it right back to 44-39.
"Defense is the key to winning and I'm grateful that Humboldt State played some two-three zone because we need to learn it," Miller said. "It's November 1st and I would have loved to play this team in three or four days, but instead they challenged us and gave us a lot of difficult looks. We don't have our zone offense set yet and it's going to be something we have to be ready for when the season starts."
Leslie cut it to a three point game, but Perry came back a short time later and hit a bucket and got fouled, but failed to convert the free throw, keeping the lead at six. Arizona tried to extend the lead and had difficulty doing so, as Humboldt State came back each time Arizona scored. Whether it was Darren Turpin having an answer for a Turner free throw or Lipski scoring a bucket to and a layup by Fogg, the Lumberjacks kept the Arizona lead at seven with six minutes left.
Broome got into the lane and was able to score to cut the lead to five, but Chol came right back and hit a reverse layup with four minutes left. On the next play, Chol came up with a loose ball and gave it to Perry, who gave it right back to Chol for a timeout-causing dunk and nine-point lead.
A few minutes later, Turner made a great pass in the lane to Chol, who got fouled on the dunk attempt. Chol missed both free throws, but Arizona got the rebound and killed some clock before Turner turned it over with a minute and a half left in the game and an eight-point lead. Humboldt tried to come back with a three-point attempt, but missed and the Wildcats got the ball back and Turner hit one free throw, giving Arizona the nine-point lead and thus basically ending the game.
After the game, Miller insinuated that some of the older players on the team are going to have to step up fast.
"The guys who want bigger roles are going to have to step up and get it done," he said. "We may not play nine or ten players like we did last season. We might play eight guys who have bigger roles and play a lot more minutes. Just because you have Arizona on your jersey doesn't mean I'm going to put you in the game. If the older players want a bigger role, then they're going to have to deal with the pressure and execute."