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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Wildcats take down Utah Valley 87-56 in first ever matchup

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Arizona men’s basketball guard T.J. McConnell laughs during Arizona’s 87-56 win against Utah Valley in McKale Center on Tuesday. McConnell’s knack for making a big play was evident throughout the Wildcats’ big win against the Wolverines.

Up by about 20 in the second half, Arizona men’s basketball point guard T.J. McConnell was still diving for the ball and making steals in the Wildcats’ 87-56 win over Utah Valley.

The No. 3 Arizona Wildcats (9-0) held the Wolverines scoreless for over seven minutes at one point to win their 36th game in a row against nonconference teams in the regular season and their 27th straight home.

“We never take a game lightly, no matter who we play,” UA guard Elliott Pitts said. “There’s no game that’s really meaningless to us, because every game counts against our record. So, we’re going to play our hardest, especially T.J.”

Arizona out-rebounded Utah Valley 40-23.

“It’s not about receiving the other team’s best shot; it’s about being at our best,” UA head coach Sean Miller said. “That’s what you saw tonight with T.J. diving. We’re just trying to be the best we can be, not taking anything for granted.”

Miller said there are teams that are more talented, experienced and shoot the ball better, but the Wildcats must work hard to be a great defensive team.

The Wildcats had nine steals, 23 points off of turnovers and eight blocks.

“We tried to speed them up,” Miller said. “It’s something for us to mix in especially at a home game. It makes sense — taking advantage of our quickness, giving the other team a different look.”

Utah Valley led for 2:21 early on, and there were six lead changes.

“We start games out a little slower than we’d like to, but it’s all about how we finish them,” Pitts said. “We’re undefeated, so we’re happy about that.”

Arizona’s bench outscored the Wolverines’ 45 to 25. Sixth man Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds, center Dusan Ristic had 13 points and seven rebounds, and Pitts had seven points.

“I would say it’s a part of our growing as a team,” Ristic said about the slow starts. “Like in one month, we are going to be a way better team than now.”

Ristic, who averaged 6.5 minutes per game through the first eight games, was 5-for-6 from the field, had four offensive rebounds and two blocks in 18 minutes.

“He’s really improved a lot on defense and still has a long way to go,” Miller said about Ristic. “His greatest attribute is his work ethic. He works as hard as anybody in our program, and that’s what’s eventually going to bring out the best in him.”

After McConnell got into foul trouble, backup point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright played 24 minutes, scored seven points, had three assists and a steal. Jackson-Cartwright, who is listed at 5-10, has 23 assists this year and four turnovers.

“Parker is small, but he’s always been small,” Miller said. “He’s learning how to survive out there.”

Arizona shot 60 percent from the field, 30 percent from 3 and 59 percent from the free-throw line. Utah Valley (3-5) shot 36 percent from the field, 46 percent from deep and 67 percent from the charity stripe.

“We battled tonight,” UVU head coach Dick Hunsaker said. “We weren’t able to match this team, but I thought we were competitive.”

Unlike most Pac-12 teams, the Wildcats play 13 games before Christmas, playing four games this week and last week.

“My philosophy is: When Christmas comes, it’s time for Christmas,” Miller said. “And then, it’s time for the Pac-12 [Conference]. We don’t need another game to prepare. Enjoy the holidays, and come back ready to compete in this great conference.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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