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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Arizona needs to tighten up play for rest of NCAA tournament

Arizona+forward+Rondae+Hollis-Jefferson+%2823%29+shoots+uninhibitedly%26%23160%3Bduring+Arizonas+54-33+lead+against+TSU+at+the+Moda+Center+in+the+first+round+of+the+NCAA+tournament%26%23160%3Bin+Portland%2C+Ore.+on+Thursday+morning.
Rebecca Noble

Arizona forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (23) shoots uninhibitedly during Arizona’s 54-33 lead against TSU at the Moda Center in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Portland, Ore. on Thursday morning.

On a day in which several top seeded teams saw their seasons come to an end, Arizona opened the 2015 NCAA Tournament with a 93-72 win over Texas Southern that left nothing to chance.

The Wildcats led for 39:12 of the 40 minutes and controlled just about every aspect of the game from rebounds to field goal percentage. All five Arizona starters scored in double-figures, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson led the way with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

Not far behind Hollis-Jefferson was Stanley Johnson, who finished with 22 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals in his first NCAA Tournament game.

All in all, it was a decent opening game for Arizona. At least for everyone except Sean Miller.

The Arizona coach criticized his players during the halftime interview with Rachel Nichols of Turner Sports and said he doesn’t want his team to pick up bad habits.

“When you don’t do the things that you do well, you’re not in the tournament very long,” Miller said in the post-game press conference. “So what I’m hoping is that we learned a few things we can move towards Saturday and be both the offensive team we were here today, but also the great defensive team which I think we’ve represented all season long.”

Miller has taken this directive ever since the ASU loss and has seen fantastic results. The Wildcats have now won 12 straight, with 10 of those 12 wins coming by double-digits. The only games that weren’t double-digit wins came at Utah on Feb. 28 and against UCLA at the Pac-12 tournament.

It’s only sensible that Miller continue that trend during the NCAA Tournament against a No. 15 seed like Texas Southern that figured to be a blowout.

Coaches often view blowouts in two ways: an avenue to experiment against live competition and a time where players pick up horrible habits. Call it a double-edged sword of sorts.

It’s great to get players in who might not play as much in a competitive game. For Arizona, guys like Matt Korcheck, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic played decent minutes as some of the premier players on the court.

More often than not those guys are role players during close games. However the deeper the Wildcats go, the more likely foul trouble is. Thus, having several players off the bench ready is key.

On the flipside, winning by 20 points or more is an easy way for guys to get too cute and get away from what got that big lead in the first place. That was kind of the case for Arizona against Texas Southern.

The Wildcats started the game 15-2 over the opening five minutes of the game before outscoring TSU 39-31 over the remainder of the half. I’m not saying they got complacent but Arizona certainly wasn’t as dominant over the rest of the half.

Looking at the second half, Arizona played the bench more and tied the Tigers by scoring 39 points. In other words, it’s a darn good thing the team started out so strong. Things could’ve been dicey there, especially with Arizona’s foul trouble.

Going forward, the Wildcats would do well to listen to Miller’s words throughout and stay on task. While it may be Texas Southern now, the next couple rounds are only going to get tougher and a lapse in attention will be that much worse.

Luckily for Miller, it looks like Hollis-Jefferson has already taken notice.

“As you guys can see, we didn’t play that well on defense,” Hollis-Jefferson said in the post-game press conference. “It kind of ― I don’t know. It kind of messes us up a little bit. We talked about it. We’re going to focus on that part of the game. Offensively things will fall. Defense wins championships, so we have to be focused on that, be ready to play defense, get stops, grind it out.”

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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