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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Punching back

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Gordon Bates/ Daily Wildcat

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Arizona allowed 19 offensive rebounds and 23 second-chance points.

The Wildcats (5-2) once again came out of the gates slowly, falling behind 10-2 early on, and giving up an 8-0 run to start the second half. But in the end it didn’t matter, as they held on to win 83-76 against New Mexico State in Las Cruces, N.M., on Tuesday.

New Mexico State forward Wendell McKines pasted 28 points and 10 rebounds on Arizona, and big man Hamidu Rahman had his way with the Wildcat bigs, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in only 20 minutes of play.

But despite its deficiencies, Arizona took a four-hour bus ride to the middle of nowhere and defeated a 5-1 Aggies team in a hostile environment in the Pan American Center.

“I don’t think we’ve been in that situation all year,” said junior forward Solomon Hill, who finished with 12 points, six rebounds and seven assists. “We handled it. We handled it well enough to get the W.”

For a team that featured a new starting lineup – Jordin Mayes, Kyle Fogg, Nick Johnson, Hill and Jesse Perry – and is still figuring out roles and rotations, Tuesday night’s road win can’t be understated.

“It was a great win for us. It’s the best win of our season,” said UA head coach Sean Miller. “It’s always hard to win on the road in college basketball, especially in a place like this.”

Arizona had its back against the wall early, but unlike its losses against Mississippi State and San Diego State, the Wildcats persevered.

They trailed 10-2 only 1:43 after the opening tip and it seemed like déjà vu all over again.

“When it happens, we’re almost to a point now that we’re used to it so me and Solomon just look at each other and be like, ‘We’ve been down like this probably every game of the season,’” said Perry, who finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Arizona went on a 10-2 run of its own to tie things up at 12 heading into the first media timeout. Miller said his team “gained confidence” from the early comeback and rode that wave into the second half, as UA led 44-40 at the break.

After keeping the game close and trailing 58-56 with just over 10 minutes to play, Arizona broke things open.

Johnson, who led Arizona with 19 points in his first collegiate start, kickstarted a 14-2 UA run with back-to-back monster dunks.

The Wildcats are still very much a work in progress according to Miller. But they handled the Aggies’ constant pressure with only 11 turnovers and overcame NMSU’s size and physicality, too.

“I know a lot of people rolled their eyes,” Miller said. “Some of my friends asked me ‘Why are you playing New Mexico State?’ but to me some of the background I come from at Xavier is you have a way of getting better in that New Mexico State is a tournament type of team.”

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