Arizona's starting five stole the show Sunday afternoon as the Wildcats beat the New Mexico State Aggies 102-87. Arizona's starters scored all but one point and played all but 13 minutes in a fast paced game that saw the Wildcats jump out to a 32-8 lead that proved to be too great for the gutsy Aggies to overcome.
The Aggies, who shot only 42.0% from the field in the first half, came out of the break on fire as they scored 20 points in the opening 7-minutes. The teams would trade runs throughout the second half with Arizona eventually getting the better.
Behind a 3-point shooting barrage (13-27 3-PT FGS) the Aggies would get to within five points with 3:48 to play, only to see the Wildcats outscore them by 10 down the stretch.
Ivan Radenovic led all scorers with 25 points (10-13 FGS). He also pulled down 12 rebounds.
Mustafa Shakur, held scoreless in the first half, finished with 15 points and nine assists – one assist shy of posting his second straight double-double in those categories.
The Wildcats trailed early 8-7 as the teams headed into the game's first television timeout at the 16-minute mark. Six and a half minutes and 25 unanswered points later, the Wildcats were up by 24 and were well on their way to posting their second win of the young season.
Bolstered by the steady play of Radenovic and the hot shooting Jawann McClellan, the Wildcats scored inside and outside during the run. McClellan made all five of his 3-point attempts in the first half. He would finish the game 7 of 7 from behind the arc, scoring 22 points.
Arizona opened the game in a 1-3-1 Zone that seemed to frustrate the Aggies. Cold shooting by NMSU combined with Arizona's relentless efforts on the boards produced a 29-6 first half rebounding edge for the Wildcats. Forwards Marcus Williams and Chase Budinger were relentless on the offensive glass. Budinger had three offensive put-backs within the game's first eight minutes while Williams and McClellan were equally disruptive in attacking the boards.
Budinger's outside jumpers were not falling (1-5 3-PT FGS), but the freshman still shot 50.0% from the field as he found other ways to score 19 points on 8 of 16 shooting. Budinger moved well without the ball and ran the floor, effectively. During the 25-0 run, Budinger was rewarded for his hustle when Shakur fed him off the break for an electrifying almost Jordan-esque lay up that wowed the crowd.
Williams, coming off a sub par game against Northern Arizona, scored 20 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. After NMSU trimmed the lead to 87-82, Arizona ran their offense through Williams who came through by taking a making a contested 12-foot bank shot from the right wing. The bucket energized the Wildcats who then rallied to outscore the Aggies 13-5 the rest of the way.
Next up for Arizona is a visit from the Samford Bulldogs who play out of the Ohio Valley Conference. Before Wednesday night's game, here's a quick look at the good, the bad and the ugly from today's victory:
Arizona had 24 assists as a team. This season they are 2-0 when they have at least 20 assists and 0-1 when they don't. They also converted 18 of 25 free throws. Shakur, the senior point guard, led the team in both of these key categories, making 9 of 10 from the charity stripe and dishing out 9 assists with only three turnovers. The 25-0 scoring run is a trademark of great Arizona teams. Say what you will about defense, but Arizona, as a program, historically has very successful seasons when they feature the kind of offensive firepower that this team has. Arizona's conditioning appears to be top-notch after our starters showed no signs of slowing down, despite playing all but 13 minutes in a fast-paced game. They ran the floor well, attacked the boards, and contested shots for 40-minutes. Most importantly, Wildcats fans have watched Arizona teams blow several big leads in the past four seasons. Tonight, after the Aggies cut a 20 point second half deficit to just five with less than four minutes to play, the Wildcats broke from their tendencies, attacked offensively, and outscored the Aggies 15-5 in the final three minutes. Shakur pushed the ball and his teammates finished shots and made free throws while not turning the ball over. Their aggressive instead of passive play in the game's last two minutes was a welcomed change.
Arizona's bench was literally that, a bench. Outside of a handful of players only playing a handful of minutes the usual subs were forced to sit and watch the starters score 101 of the teams 102 points. Arizona, at several times throughout the game, failed to put the dagger in the Aggies. With three minutes to play in the first half, the Aggies cut the Wildcats lead from 24 to 11. In the second half, the hot shooting Aggies refused to quit and again cut large deficits to single digits on more than one occasion. The 1-3-1 Zone was effective for most of the game, but Arizona needs to understand that when they are defending out of this set, players must extend their defense all the way out to the shooters. Basketball at the Division I level is played well beyond the arc as was demonstrated from Aggie long range shooters who were making shot after shot in the second half from 20 plus feet.
Arizona's transition defense was ugly at times, but breakdowns in this department will occur in games that are played at the frantic pace that today's was played at. After dominating the boards in the first half, Arizona was out rebounded 16-9 in the second half. Part of that can be attributed to NMSU shooting over 50.0% in the second half, but the Aggies' nine offensive boards in the final frame is not something that Olson & Company will be pleased about. Arizona also had 18 turnovers.
Overall, this was a game that Arizona controlled from the opening tip. The Aggies made some runs to keep it interesting but in watching the game, I never got the feeling that there was even a remote chance that the Wildcats would lose.
Arizona will play a formidable opponent in Samford this Wednesday. The Bulldogs are picked by most to win their conference. They run a Princeton-style offense which will help prepare the Wildcats for future Pac-10 opponents such as Arizona State, Washington State and Oregon State.