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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona basketball passes NIT tournament test

Photo+courtesy+of+The+Chronicle+
Photo courtesy of The Chronicle

NEW YORK — Forced at times to hold blowout leads, exchange buckets back and forth and claw back from halftime deficits to win, Arizona basketball discovered a lot about itself in the NIT Season Tip Off.

“I’m really ecstatic that we were able to win this tournament here in the Garden,” head coach Sean Miller said. “Everybody knows what a special place this is. We talk to our players about it. You can see our fans, how many fans we have, being here from the West.”

In the opening rounds at home, the Wildcats beat Fairleigh Dickinson 100-50 and Rhode Island 87-59.

However, in its 72-66 upending of Duke and 66-62 victory over Drexel, Arizona was outscored a combined 65-53 in the first halves. It took clutch shooting and sound defense for the Wildcats to win the tournament, besting the Dragons and Blue Devils a total of 85-63 in the second halves.

“The days of hiding at home or ducking the parity that exists have ended,” Miller said. “So, part of us already going to San Diego State, coming here to New York know that we would have the opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the East Coast away from home, and number two, against two quality opponents. That’s why you want to play in an event such as this one.”

Arizona controlled the glass

Wildcats sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski led all other players in the finals with nine rebounds. Freshman forward Aaron Gordon pulled down seven and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and T.J. McConnell grabbed six each while no Blue Devil had more than four besides Rodney Hood (eight).

“When you think about our team being versatile, two players [that] really stand out, Rondae and Aaron, are two freshmen, because they are so interchangeable,” Miller said. “But we can get better.”

Arizona out rebounded Duke 36-28.

Free throw shooting

The Wildcats and Blue Devils both shot 5-7 (71.4 percent) from the foul line in the first half. That changed drastically in the next 20 minutes as Arizona hit 16-19 (84.2 percent) of its free throw shots while Duke was a dismal 7-11 (63.6 percent).

Overall, the Wildcats were 21-26 (80.8 percent) and the Blue Devils were 12-18 (66.7 percent) from the stripe.

“We’re an all-around team,” said UA junior guard and the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Nick Johnson. “You could see it in the box score.”

—Follow Joey Putrelo @JoeyPutrelo

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