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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Lopes cut it close, but Arizona fends off in-state rival Grand Canyon

Steven Spooner

Arizona men’s basketball guard Rawle Alkins goes for a layup against GCU guard Gerard Martin in Mckale Center on Wednesday, Dec. 14.

The No. 19 Arizona Wildcats defeated the Grand Canyon University Lopes 64-54 to move to 9-2 on the season. Freshman Kobi Simmons led the way for the Wildcats with 13 points and three assists.

Arizona started slow after senior Kadeem Allen connected on a three-point shot to get the scoring going. Through five minutes, the game stood at 5-4 and Arizona’s defense had already caused three turnovers.

The Lopes head in to the matchup with a record of 5-4, but have faced stiff competition. They have already faced the likes of Duke and Louisville, and they played with the attitude that they could come to McKale Center and earn a victory. Guard DeWayne Russell, who is averaging a gaudy 25.4 points per game, had an active first half attempting 13 shots. He scored 11 points in the first half and helped the Lopes snag an early 9-7 lead. Head coach Sean Miller impressed with the Lopes fans in the gym, and how competitive the team was on the court.

“In my eight years, I’ve never seen a student section in McKale filled with the visitors,” Miller said. “They had a whole section and you could just tell they had a great spirit about what they are doing and that’s to Grand Canyon’s credit.”

Miller added,

“We didn’t play Grand Canyon to help build their program or do them a favor. We played their team because we respect them. On a given night they can beat anybody.”

The few, but proud Grand Canyon fans in the building got loud and it woke up the Wildcats. Arizona went on a quick 8-0 run with big plays from freshman Kobi Simmons and Alkins, and they never looked back. The Wildcats run stretched all the way out to 21-5 and they continued to make their shots from deep.

The Wildcats could’ve pushed their lead to larger margin at the half if they didn’t commit 12 turnovers. The Lopes played aggressively on the defensive end and it led to seven steals for them in the first half. It allowed the Lopes to stay in the game, and they ended the half on a 11-4 run.

The Lopes refused to go away to begin the second half, but in the end they did not have enough firepower to pull off the upset. They came as close as four points with 10 minutes to play, thanks to another solid performance from Russell. Russell played every single minute in the contest and finished with 19 points in the game.

The home faithful in McKale came alive with nine minutes to play and it sent the Wildcats on a 14-5 run. With 3:21 to play, the Wildcats had an 11-point lead and held on for the victory.

The Lopes came in to the matchup shooting 44 percent from the field and 34 percent from deep. They were only able to manage a 6-24 night from three-point land, and it was a key factor in the game. Russell was a 46 percent shooter from deep coming in, and connected on only one of his seven attempts.

On a night where he struggled from deep going 0-5, Alkins had another solid performance, and has strung together his best stretch as a Wildcat over the past few weeks. Alkins filled the stat sheet with 11 points, four assists, and eight rebounds. Miller hinted that Alkins’ toughness comes from his roots.

“He shot five [three-point shots] because he felt really good about his three-point shot from last game,” Miller said. “He didn’t let that bother him. I thought when the game really got tough, he got tough. He’s from Brooklyn, he’s seen that before.”

Arizona had a good night down low and won the rebounding battle 42-29, and outscored the lopes 28-20 in the paint. Turnovers were a story for both teams. The Lopes turned it over 15 times leading to 12 Arizona points, while the Wildcats turned it over 19 times leading to 20 points for the Lopes. Miller noted that 10 of Arizona’s turnovers came from its frontcourt, and that if Arizona could of converted on second chance points or gotten to the foul line, their margin of victory would have been greater.

“In and around the rim Grand Canyon is really quick and hard playing,” Miller said. “They’re slapping at the ball and trying to steal it, I thought that caught us off guard in the first half. When 10 of the 19 [turnovers] are coming from three post players, it just, doesn’t make the game feel good.”

Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter.

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