Cats coast in Fiesta Bowl first round matchup

Arizona turned in a dominating defensive effort in its comfortable 79-45 victory over Eastern Washington in the first round of the Fiesta Bowl Classic.

It was a game that looked great in the boxscore, but was actually a bit of a snoozer. The Wildcats shot over 50% and forced 25 turnovers, but never looked great doing it. Just two Wildcats scored in double figures, and while the Cats won by 34 points, you got the feeling that it could have been much worse had the Wildcats really been into it.

Eastern Washington made attempts to attack the Wildcat press early, but it was ineffective and Arizona jumped to an 8-2 lead with solid defense and strong inside play. Channing Frye and Isaiah Fox converted chip-shot buckets and Mustafa Shakur finished a breakaway dunk for the early six-point advantage.

"We can't let the opposing team control the tempo," Hassan Adams noted.

The routine continued as the half progressed. The UA forced EWU into 10 turnovers in the first 10 minutes. Offensively, it showed effectiveness with Frye on the inside and found the distance from the perimeter in building a 23-12 lead. Arizona made 11 of its first 15 shots from the field.

Frye finished with a game-high 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting.

"We are doing a better job at getting the ball to him (Frye) when he's open," Lute Olson said.

A dramatic Kenny Smith dunk off an offensive rebound trimmed the UA lead to 31-19 with 4:30 left in the first half. While efficient early, Arizona's subs struggled offensively. Salim Stoudamire snapped the brief drought with a long three that upped the Wildcat margin to 15.

The Wildcats led 39-23 at the half behind Frye's 12 points.

Arizona's defense continued its suffocating play in the second half, allowing just five Eagle points in the first eight minutes. While the game was well in hand, UA fans had an opportunity to boo the officials when a Frye clearout negated a Hassan Adams dunk. However, Adams got another opportunity on a breakaway from a steal and converted the slam to put Arizona up 51-28.

Even with the Wildcat bench on the floor down the stretch, EWU couldn't get the lead below 20 the rest of the way. In fact, it was just the opposite. The defense dominated while the backcourt of Jesus Verdejo, Daniel Dillon and Jawann McClellan expanded the advantage. Bret Breilmaier and Matt Brase played quality minutes as well.

"The younger guys are becoming more comfrotable with the more playing time they get," said Olson. "It's good when generally guys who don't get a lot of playing time get to show how much progress they've made."

Brielmaier had four points on 2-2 shooting and pulled down five rebounds. Daniel Dillon scored a career high five points, while Jesus Verdejo added eight in 11 minutes.

The UA held Eastern Washington in the low 30-percentile from the field while converting on nearly 60 percent of its efforts.

Arizona advances to its 20th consecutive tournament final. It faces Richmond Thursday. The Spiders downed Butler at the buzzer.

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