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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Hoops rolls in coach’s debut (w/ Gallery)

Michael Ignatov
Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat University of Arizona men’s basketball team meets Northern Arizona University at McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 15, 2009. In their first game of the 2009-2010 season, Arizona up 51-31 at the half.

Head coach Sean Miller went with an untraditional starting lineup in Sunday’s opener for Arizona basketball, opting for guards Nic Wise and Momo Jones to play side-by-side.

In the end though, the starting lineup said little as Miller used a 10-man rotation with eight of those players seeing at least 15 minutes of playing time in an 87-70 Arizona (1-0) win over NAU at McKale Center.

The goal: Running the NAU Lumberjacks into the ground.

“”I don’t want to say it’s another game,”” Miller said of his first victory as a Wildcat. “”I want to be as much focused on our team and the improvement of our team. We have some challenges … going from tonight’s game and into Thursday’s game against Rice.””

Behind the Wildcat’s tenacity was none other than do-it-all forward Jamelle Horne, who set the tone from the tip-off by scoring an And-1 just 13 seconds into the game and following through with two blocks on consecutive NAU possessions just minutes later. Horne finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.

Freshman forward Solomon Hill took some of the spotlight away from Horne, leading the break off his own rebounds multiple times throughout the evening. He finished with a game-high 17 points to go with eight rebounds. He also scored five decisive points in the second half, right as NAU was whittling away Arizona’s lead on their final gasp of air.

Arizona held a 73-53 lead with seven minutes left in the game, and NAU cut that to 77-64 with more than four minutes remaining. But Hill grabbed an offensive rebound that led to a put-back and then scored a layup while getting fouled on a spin move toward the basket.

“”Coach gave me permission, and I can push the ball as soon as I get the rebound,”” the versatile freshman Hill said. “”I just wanted to go out there and do everything right, and make sure I didn’t have anything bad to say when I watched video.””

The Wildcats started slowly, holding a 13-9 lead almost eight minutes into the contest. The difference began to balloon as Miller’s constant substitutions and the team’s pressure defense began to wear on the Lumberjacks.

By halftime, the Wildcats led 51-31.

The lead hovered around 18 points until the game entered the final five minutes. NAU twice got the deficit down to 13 points but Hill’s final eight points and the game clock would ultimately put away the Lumberjacks and deadly scorer Cameron Jones.

“”That’s something we need to focus on: finishing games,”” Horne said. “”I feel like a lot of young teams have problems with that around the country.””

NAU’s Jones finished with 29 points on 12-for-16 shooting, giving Arizona an example of failing to shut down the oppositions’ go-to player. Miller said the team’s defense on Jones was a main concern for a 39-36 second-half that went in favor of NAU.

“”The defense was not nearly as good in the second half,”” Miller said. “”That was a reflection of how many points they scored and Cameron Jones. A player like that, you cannot continue to let him score.””

Sophomore Brendon Lavender got the start at the small forward position along with Wise, Jones, Horne and freshman center Kyryl Natyazhko. Lavender finished with eight points but led the team, along with Horne, with 28 minutes of playing time each.

“”I’m just focusing on defense right now, getting defensive rebounds and just shutting my man down,”” Lavender said. “”Coach gave me a lot of advice on defense and rebounding. Rebounding is one of the main points he’s focusing on me. I’ve got to rebound on the defensive end.””

Senior point guard Nic Wise quietly added 15 points and four assists for Arizona. He was coming off his second ankle sprain in the past few weeks. Four Arizona players finished in double figures while three players — Jones, Lavender and freshman forward Derrick Williams — had eight points.

While Miller doesn’t expect his substitution patterns and bench use to change, the starting lineup is another story.

“”That’s far from being in cement,”” he said.

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