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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Cats claw back against Missouri at Maui Invitational

Arizona+Parker+Jackson-Cartwright+passes+around+Missouris+DAngelo+Allen+in+the+second+half+Monday.
Arizona Parker Jackson-Cartwright passes around Missouri’s D’Angelo Allen in the second half Monday.

Arizona’s first game of the 2014 EA Sports Maui Invitational started out almost identically to the first three games of the season. 

The Wildcats (4-0) trailed early against the Missouri Tigers before Rondae Hollis-Jefferson sparked a run — something the forward has done all year — that led to a 72-53 Arizona victory.

Missouri led 5-0 about two minutes in before UA head coach Sean Miller subbed in Hollis-Jefferson at the 17:21 mark, changing the landscape of the game. With Hollis-Jefferson on the court, the Wildcats went on a 14-4 run and took control of the driver’s seat.

The rest of the first half was back and forth with the Arizona defense coming alive toward the end. The Wildcats forced nine first-half turnovers, scoring 10 points off turnovers in the half. Arizona recorded seven steals in the first half alone.

Leading the way  in the first half with 10 points was forward Brandon Ashley, who was playing in his first road action since his Feb. 

1 foot injury at California. Ashley played just 13 minutes in the half but was a reliable 4-7 from the field.

Ashley finished the game tied with a team-high 15 points on an efficient 5-9 shooting from the field.

At the end of the first half, Arizona led 32-25 but didn’t have a firm grasp on the lead.

The start of the second half saw the Arizona lead hover around 10 points, never dipping below eight or rising above 11. 

Essentially, the Tigers couldn’t close the gap and the Wildcats couldn’t extend the lead.

The see-saw affair continued until about nine minutes left in the game. Stanley Johnson — who finished with 14 points and five rebounds — hit a pair of free throws to increase the UA lead to 13 points. From that point on, it was all Arizona.

The Arizona defense held Missouri to 36.4 percent from the field and a paltry 23.1 percent from the 3-point line. Adding to their woes, the Tigers shot 69.2 percent from the free-throw line. Miller’s squad allowed only 35 of Missouri’s 53 points to come from the field.

Combine Missouri’s poor shooting with 17 total turnovers, and it’s no surprise the Wildcats pulled away.  The packline defense that Miller deploys dared Missouri to shoot from deep, something the Tigers simply could not do with consistency.

Arizona might not make a ton of 3-pointers this season — the Wildcats only have 21 makes so far — but this defense isn’t going to give up very many deep balls.That’s not to say the Arizona offense has regressed either. The offense is definitely better overall this season than last year, but this is a defensive team first and foremost.

Miller will be the first to back up that claim, too.

And to be fair, this Missouri team (2-2) is not the same caliber team as last year. Gone are three starters: Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross. For those who don’t know, those were the top-three scorers last season, accounting for 51.4 of 

Missouri’s 72.9 points-per-game average.

Anytime a team loses 70.5 percent of its scoring from one season to the next, there’s bound to be regression, and for this Missouri team, there certainly was.

Up next for Arizona are the Kansas State Wildcats. Behind 24 points from Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State defeated Purdue 88-79 in its opening game in Maui, Hawaii, to set up the matchup.

The battle of the Wildcats should be a bit more competitive, but Arizona should have the upper hand against Kansas State.

Tip-off is set for today at 5:30 p.m. MST and the game can be seen on ESPN.

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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