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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    NAU scares ‘Cats into a victory

    UA forward Jordan Hill goes up for a jump shot in last nights 76-69 win over NAU at McKale Center. Hill fouled out with only eight points in the closest Wildcat margin of victory over NAU since 1986.
    UA forward Jordan Hill goes up for a jump shot in last night’s 76-69 win over NAU at McKale Center. Hill fouled out with only eight points in the closest Wildcat margin of victory over NAU since 1986.

    When NAU comes to town, the Arizona men’s basketball team can typically expect the Lumberjacks to play tough before eventually giving in like sacrificial lambs.

    Last night, NAU gave the No. 17 Wildcats all they could handle before eventually succumbing 76-69 in McKale Center, in the teams’ closest contest since 1986.

    “”It beats the alternative,”” said UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill. “”I’m not happy with the way they played, but I thought in stretches we looked very good … and in stretches we didn’t look very good. I think that’s going to be the tale of the tape, unfortunately, for us at different times.””

    The Wildcats (1-0) seemed to have the game in check after a Nic Wise 3-pointer stretched their lead to 66-50 with 9:16 left, but the Lumberjacks (1-1) stormed back with a 13-0 run that put the game in doubt until guard Jawann McClellan hit a pair of free throws with 11.5 seconds left.

    The run included a pair of 3s by Nate Geiser before 6-foot-9 forward Kyle Landry went to work down low, scoring nine NAU points in a row either in the paint or at the free-throw line, as the Lumberjacks kept the deficit within five until McClellan’s final free throws.

    “”Our inside players got absolutely killed in the second half, and if Jamelle (Horne) and Bret (Brielmaier) and Jordan (Hill) don’t step up and play bigger than that and better than that, we’re going to have problems,”” O’Neill said. “”I like the way our defense played for about 30 minutes, and when they made a concerted effort to go to the post on us, we just didn’t respond very well, and (that) gave them a chance.””

    Just like he did in Thursday’s exhibition game, Hill struggled through foul trouble the entire game. He picked up his second foul with 11:16 left in the first half and did not return until after intermission. He then picked up his third foul less than two minutes into the second half, eventually fouling out in 23 minutes.

    That left the 6-foot-7 Brielmaier and 6-foot-6 Horne to battle things out down low the rest of the game, save for a one-minute appearance from forward Mohamed Tangara.

    “”I didn’t think

    I like the way our defense played for about 30 minutes, and when they made a concerted effort to go to the post on us, we just didn’t respond.

    -Kevin O’Neill,
    interim head coach

    they were fouls, but I can’t do anything, it’s the ref’s call,”” Hill said. “”I really didn’t feel I was really focused, anyway. I was just thinking about the fouls that I have, and I was just trying not to get any more fouls. I was trying to play hard, but it just wasn’t really there.””

    The Wildcats built up their lead in large part due to the contributions of forward Chase Budinger and guard Jerryd Bayless. Budinger scored 15 of his game-high 25 points in the first half, while Bayless chipped in 18 in his first collegiate contest.

    Bayless scored the first eight UA points during a 16-2 run in the first half that ultimately made up for Arizona’s struggles down the stretch.

    Still, the talk in the Wildcat locker room after the game revolved around the Wildcats’ inability to close out a team they had beaten 23 straight times, with a 16-point lead late in the game.

    “”We showed how young we are tonight,”” McClellan said. “”We had a team down 16 and didn’t know how to close them out. We’ve got to do a better job of closing teams out, and we’ve just got to play a lot tougher.””

    Said Bayless: “”We need to learn how to kill off an opponent. There was no reason why they should have been able to come back on us. We need to do a better job on the defensive end.””

    O’Neill estimated the Wildcats played well for three-quarters of the game, but, in part because of their youth, took plays off. That allowed the Lumberjacks to shoot 50 percent in the second half after hitting just 38.5 percent of their shots in the first half – which did not surprise O’Neill given that NAU scored 18 points in the paint in the second half.

    Arizona stuck mainly to its eight-man rotation, with guards Daniel Dillon and Wise joining Brielmaier off the bench. Brielmaier tied a career high by playing 27 minutes, but his presence left the Wildcats small up front.

    “”We have who we have, and that’s all there is to it,”” O’Neill said. “”If anybody’s got any suggestions who else we can put out there, I’m all for it, but we are what we are as a basketball team, and we’re thin on the frontline. We’re going to play guys that were that size and bigger and better all year long.””

    Nobody came out smiling after a tougher-than expected opening evening, but O’Neill’s from the school where a win’s a win, and this result sure beats the upsets less-heralded opponents sprung on USC and Kentucky last week.

    After a game that left much to improve on, the Wildcats can take solace in the fact they’re still undefeated.

    “”Our team has to change their culture, where there’s no give-in – you’ve got to play 40 minutes of possessions, not 35 minutes or 32 minutes – and those are things that are going to be challenges for us right now,”” O’Neill said.

    And 1

    The contest marked Arizona’s earliest season opener ever, one calendar day before the 1990-1991 opener against

    Austin Peay. … The 1986-1987 meeting was also a 76-69 UA victory. … Arizona has not lost to NAU since Dec. 15, 1966.

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