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The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona Wildcats use late surge to defeat UC Irvine 71-54

Tyler+Baker+%2F+The+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AUA+Wildcats+win+71-54+against+UC+Irvine+at+McKale+Center+on+November+19%2C+2014.
Tyler Baker
Tyler Baker / The Daily Wildcat UA Wildcats win 71-54 against UC Irvine at McKale Center on November 19, 2014.

After feasting on Anteaters for 29 minutes, Arizona men’s basketball forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson still had room for some fruit snacks in the postgame press conference. Led by Hollis-Jefferson, the No. 2 Wildcats (3-0) beat UC Irvine 71-54 to complete a perfect home stand to open the season.

For the third game in a row, Hollis-Jefferson started the game on the bench, but he led all scorers with 19 points, got six rebounds, had a block and the highlight of the night was when he dunked on UCI 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye.

“My eyes got really big and I just knew I had it once I saw him turning slow, and I went up and jumped,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “The rest was history.”

UA head coach Sean Miller said Hollis-Jefferson chose to stay on the bench because he thought it helped the team more.

“There are a lot of these guys that will talk the talk, and say ‘sacrifice’ and beat their chest when things are going well, but there aren’t a lot of kids that would come off the bench if you’re him,” Miller said. “It wasn’t as if I had to sell it; that’s who he is.”

Hollis-Jefferson said his mindset coming off the bench is to be “that energy guy that gives my teammates a spark when I come in.”

The Anteaters’ biggest lead was six points, and they were ahead for about 15 minutes. Arizona went on a 15-0 run late in the second half, capping off a second half surge to hold on for the win.

“I think we really grew up tonight the way we played,” Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell said.

McConnell had 12 points, nine rebounds, four assists and six steals in a team-high 36 minutes of action.

“When we were in the huddle, we just said we were two or three buckets away from going on a big run,” McConnell said. “It starts on defense. We locked down on defense, got two or three buckets and it just took off.”

The UA had 18 second-chance points, compared to five for the Anteaters.

“Teams that are good, they stay together,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “We just keep working hard and it worked hard in our favor.”

The Wildcats made 29 of their 34 free throws, led by Hollis-Jefferson’s 11 from the charity stripe. UCI made nine freebies.

“It rubs off,” Hollis-Jefferson said about free throws. “Once one person starts making it, the other players on the team start making it and it’s contagious

Forward Stanley Johnson got his first collegiate double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, including three offensive boards. Miller criticized his rebounding on Sunday.

“We dealt with Aaron Gordon last year and there’s so much expected of these young players, these highly touted before they get here,” Miller said. “Sometimes you forget that this is the first time that Stanley’s probably seen a zone this size and this is only the third game of his college career.”

After trailing by three at halftime, the Wildcats outscored the Anteaters (2-1) by 20 in the second half.

“We didn’t want to make too big a deal, whether we were winning or losing,” Miller said about the halftime message. “It was more along the lines of, ‘These are the things that we need to do better in the second half.’”

Ndiaye was held to nine points and five rebounds as he got into foul trouble. Guards Travis Souza and Luke Nelson led the Anteaters in scoring with 11 each.

Up next for the Wildcats is the EA Sports Maui Invitational, starting with Missouri on Monday at 3 p.m. MST.

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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