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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona holds off UTEP 60-55 in first true road game

Arizona+holds+off+UTEP+60-55+in+first+true+road+game
Rebecca Noble

EL PASO, Texas — No. 3 Arizona men’s basketball held off a fierce challenge from UTEP in arguably the biggest game in El Paso in years, to beat the Miners 60-55, improve to 12-0 and pass its first true road test of the season.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be a 20 point blowout,” UA point guard T.J. McConnell said. “You’re not going to UTEP on the road and blowing them out, they’re a well coached team, they’re disciplined and they showed that tonight.”

The Wildcats are the highest ranked team to ever play the Miners in El Paso. The attendance was 12,000, the first sellout at the Haskins Center since head coach Tim Floyd’s first game at UTEP on Nov. 12, 2010.

“This was a hostile arena and crowd—I mean that in a very complimentary way—and everything that we expected,” UA head coach Sean Miller said.

Arizona jumped out to a 15-2 lead after a dunk by forward Stanley Johnson in his first collegiate road game.

“I think we got off to a great start, which helped us out a lot and helped me out a lot, this is a very good team,” Johnson said.

Johnson scored 17 points, grabbed six rebounds and had four steals.

“He’s the heart and soul of our team,” Miller said. “He does it on defense, he does it on offense. When we really needed a big play, he made it tonight.”

While the Wildcats have had problems with slow starts, Johnson said the early run wasn’t a relief.

“Every team has a run,” Johnson said. “We had our run as it started, but at the end of the day, all we’re thinking is ‘man, they’re about to have a run here soon, it’s about to make it real close and it’s about to get real loud, real quick.’”

Forward Vince Hunter led the way for the Miners, with a game-high 18 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and two steals. Hunter fouled out, though, hurting UTEP’s chances at an upset. .

“He’s the best player that we’ve played against,” Miller said. “If he didn’t foul out, then…I don’t know if we would have won, because he was a one man wrecking crew for a lot of the game and to his credit, it’s not like we weren’t trying, but we needed the plays when we needed to.”

Miller said Hunter took the game over for a 10-minute stretch. When Hunter fouled out with 8:09 left, the Miners were trailing by four. The Wildcats’ lead would balloon up to 10 before making it close at the end.

“It’s tough to see a guy foul out like that, but I’ll take this win any kind of way,” Johnson said.

McConnell said the Miners sped the Wildcats up a bit, as they erased Arizona’s lead by 3:19 left in the first half, to tie it at 21-21.

“On the road, you gotta start like that or you never know what will happen,” McConnell said. “We started like that, but they punched us right back.”

McConnell nearly recorded a triple double, with nine points, eight assists and seven rebounds to go along with three steals.

“As long as we win, I don’t care, I wasn’t paying attention to my stats,” McConnell said. “I made some stupid mistakes down the end, I almost got a 10 second call that coach Miller was on me for, I fouled a guy at the end, [those are] things a fifth year senior can’t do. I just got to be smarter than that.”

Miller said that McConnell, was really poised and “stepped up in a big, big, way.”

While the game started at 9 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, McConnell said he didn’t think that was a factor.

“We haven’t really played a lot of nine o’clock games, but we just do our regular routine, like we would any other game, it’s just that we’re going to get back to Tucson a lot later,” McConnell said. “I don’t think it really mattered.”

The Wildcats were 2-for-4 from the free throw line in the first half and 13-for-22 in the second, culminating in a 57.7 percentage from the charity stripe on the night.

“As always, when you don’t make free throws, the game feels funny and unless that changes for us, every game we play is going to be like this, because we’re one out of two and that’s something that we need to get better at,” Miller said.

Up next for the Wildcats is a trip to Las Vegas to face UNLV on December 23.

“This is obviously a great win in a great environment,” McConnell said, “There’s obviously a lot of distractions in Vegas but I think we’re going to stay off The Strip and a little bit, in a kind of secluded area, but we just gotta be focused like we were this past game and I think we’ll be alright.”

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