Arizona defeated Belmont on Thursday. Read on for news and notes on how the Wildcats got it done.
looked like a team on a mission on Thursday night as the Wildcats opened their NCAA Tournament by blowing past Belmont 81-64 to advance to the round of 32.
In a game where many pundits picked the Bruins to pull the upset, UA came out of the gates blazing and took an early double-digit advantage. Belmont battled back quickly, but Arizona was able to take control of the affair in the middle of the first half.
The Bruins made a run late in the second half, but the Wildcats already had a sizable advantage and their veterans were not going to allow them to lose grasp of the contest.
The seniors played like a group that realized one loss would conclude their college careers and did not take their opponent lightly. Combine that with solid contributions from the rest of the supporting cast all around, and UA was able to easily dispatch the Bruins.
Mark Lyons has been a hot topic of conversation among Arizona fans all season. On Thursday night, he looked like a determined scorer, putting up 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the floor.
He was solid from deep – 3-for-7 from downtown – and was able to pick apart Belmont's subpar pick-and-roll defense. Lyons broke down the Bruins' defense numerous times and often turned it into an easy layup.
Lyons has to continue to play well for Arizona to make a deep run in the tournament. When he performs at the peak of his game, the Wildcats are one of the best teams in the nation. When he struggles, it affects everyone around him and Arizona becomes average. If Thursday's version of Lyons is what Arizona gets on Saturday, the Wildcats have a strong chance to extend their season at least one more game.
Kevin Parrom's all-around contributions on Thursday were one of the biggest reasons the Wildcats were able to hold control of the ball game for much of the evening. The senior swing man picked up 12 points and tied for the team-high in rebounds with eight, while contributing on the defensive end of the floor with a block.
Parrom displayed a lot of confidence, but maintained his focus in the process and played a big part in the victory.
Arizona's third senior, Solomon Hill, tallied just nine points, but it was obvious that UA was a much better squad with him on the floor. His numbers weren't overly impressive, but he served as the glue of the offense and came through with three field goals from beyond the arc, two of which came down the stretch during Belmont's attempted comeback.
For being his first NCAA Tournament appearance, freshman big man Kaleb Tarczewski looked like a polished veteran who had been there before. The Arizona center was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor and finished with 12 points. He also was a big factor on the boards, where he tied Parrom for the team lead with eight rebounds.
The freshman only played 20 minutes of action due to foul trouble, but when he was on the floor, he dominated the paint.
Lyons may very well be listed as UA's point guard, but it was Nick Johnson's distribution efforts on Thursday that were essential to UA's offensive output.
On top of his 12 points, Johnson dished out a team-high five assists and was constantly making the right play with the ball in his hands. As a team, Arizona moved around better without the ball and it allowed players like Johnson to find open shooters throughout the majority of the contest.
The other two other UA freshmen – Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett – came off the bench and made their impressions felt. The pair combined for just 10 points, but their rebounding efforts were what really impacted the contest. The freshmen big men totaled 13 rebounds, while Jerrett made his presence felt defensively with a pair of blocks.
The biggest disparity between the two squads in the box score was in the rebounding department. The Wildcats dominated the glass, holding a 44-18 rebounding advantage over the Bruins. Belmont only grabbed two rebounds on the offensive end of the floor, severely limiting their opportunities for second-chance points.
One of the biggest talking points regarding this game coming in was Belmont's ability to knock down the three and UA's struggles defending the perimeter.
Each team appeared to reverse those trends on Thursday, with the Bruins connecting on just eight out of their 27 attempts from beyond the arc. Belmont's pick-and-roll offense was unsuccessful and Arizona was able to hound the Bruins' long-distance shooters all night.
UA's offensive performance in the second half was impressive as the Wildcats shot 67.9 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes of play. Given how Belmont began to find a rhythm on offense down the stretch, the Wildcats' hot shooting became a necessity and allowed them to hold off what could have been a much more successful comeback attempt.