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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

A decent first step UA beats Valpo

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Kevin Brost
Kevin Brost / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Following Arizona’s unimpressive exhibition season, Sean Miller made it clear that he needed his three veteran leaders to step up for Arizona to be successful.

Against Valparaiso on Monday night, two out of three was good enough.

Seniors Jesse Perry and Kyle Fogg combined to score 30 points on 12-for-17 shooting and grab 14 rebounds to lead the Wildcats to a 73-64 victory against Valparaiso in McKale Center to kick off the 2k Sports Classic.

“While our team is a work in progress, like many teams, you always want to depend on your most experienced players, and I thought Jesse and Kyle just really did an excellent job,” Miller said.

In the Wildcats’ exhibition loss to Seattle Pacific, Perry and Fogg combined for only 13 points on 5-for-13 shooting and four rebounds in 55 minutes. While Perry racked up a double-double — 12 points and 14 rebounds — against Humboldt State, Fogg struggled once again, drilling only two of his eight attempts.

But both Perry and Fogg were clicking on all cylinders Monday night in the Wildcats’ season opener.

Perry carried the Wildcats through the first half, as he led the team in points and rebounds, going for 10 and five. The 22-year-old senior forward finished the game with 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes, leading Miller to rave about Perry’s growth since arriving in Arizona from John A. Logan Community College less than a year ago.

“If you would have judged Jesse Perry as an Arizona player last November, you would probably say to yourself, ‘Boy it’s going to be a reach if he is really able to contribute,’” Miller said. “Last year he was on the all-tournament team and was a big reason we won the Pac-10 championship.

“To me he picked up right where he left off,” Miller added. “He’s a winner and I believe he’s going to have a good season for us.”

While Perry dominated in the paint, Fogg gave the Wildcats a much-needed perimeter presence against Valparaiso. After making only three of his first 13 attempts through the two exhibition games, Miller was adamant that Fogg needed to shoot the ball better to give Arizona a chance.

Fogg got the message Monday night as he scored a team-high 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting. The senior guard also made 6-for-8 free throws as he got all the way to the hoop and did some damage with his mid-range game.

“I definitely take it personal,” Fogg said of his poor play. “Coach is really trying to bring out the best in all of us and he was right. I wasn’t performing as well as I should have been and I just came out tonight and just tried to be more aggressive on offense and work on getting open shots and coming off screens harder.

“I think the reason we were closer in those exhibition games was because I wasn’t performing.”

Both Fogg and Perry performed against the Crusaders, and it showed in the final score. Arizona’s third leader, Solomon Hill, struggled once again on Monday, scoring only eight points on 2-for-6 shooting in 24 minutes of play. Hill also committed four turnovers, giving him eight in his last two games.

“Solomon has to play better,” Miller said. “Tonight wasn’t his night but Wednesday night I hope will be.”

But the Wildcats survived without their versatile small forward thanks to the play of Nick Johnson, big man Angelo Chol, and sophomore guard Jordin Mayes.

Johnson, who Miller called one of the best freshmen in the conference after the game, hit two big threes in the first half and finished with 14 points and six assists. While Kyryl Natyazhko struggled with foul trouble, Chol gave the Wildcats a boost, scoring six points, grabbing six boards and racking up four steals in 23 minutes.

To round out Arizona’s supporting cast, Mayes scored eight big points — two threes and a deep two — during a 16-3 the Wildcats run that stretched Arizona’s lead to 15 mid-way through the second half.

“I hit open shots and that’s what I do pretty much is hit open shots,” Mayes said.

Thanks to Perry, Fogg and a few Arizona youngsters, the Wildcats made solid progress against the Crusaders. But Arizona did give up 19 points in the final 5:01 and, according to Miller, is still a work in progress.

“It’s a lesson we were able to learn, and I’m glad we got the win,” Miller said. “We have a team that needs to get a lot better because we’re playing so many new faces and so many familiar faces in a different role.”

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