It was not pretty. It was not even close to pretty, but Arizona (7-0) fought through adversity and a tough Clemson (5-3) home crowd to keep their undefeated season alive.
What the Wildcats did look good doing was starting and finishing (everything in the middle was comparable to a bad filling in a cake). UA jumped out to a 22-8 lead with just under 9 minutes to go. That 11 minute span was the good. Over the next 8:55 of the half it was bad.The Tigers outscored the ‘Cats 16-6, making it a ‘ball game’ and bringing the score at the half to 28-24, Arizona.
The first four minutes after the half are a segment all coaches say one must win if one wants to be victorious. Arizona must have a different philosophy entirely. UA’s four point lead at the half was no longer as Clemson tied it at 35 just outside of the four minute mark. It continued to go downhill as Clemson took its biggest lead of the game, up six, 44-38, a few minutes later.
Then it finally turned around. Arizona finally remembered how to play the hardwood sport, outscoring Clemson 28-8 over the final 10:55 of the game and making the final score look like a cakewalk win.
In a game full of ups and downs, Mark Lyons was Arizona’s trend line, keeping them stable and leading them through a rowdy road environment. Lyons was the high man with 20 points, four assists, and even had four rebounds. The only other member of the double digit point squad was Nick Johnson who added 13 points and five rebounds but more importantly had five steals. Johnson’s defense has improved this season, averaging 2.7 steals a game.
This game gave the Wildcats a lot to work on in preparation for #6 Florida. For one, UA had more turnovers than assists, never a recipe for success. Arizona also only shot 35% from the field, not good whichever way one wants to look at it.
The good in the game was out-rebounding Clemson 40-26 and holding the Tigers to under 40% shooting. Another positive was the fact Arizona made Clemson a one-on-on team, meaning most of the baskets did not come via an assist.
Next Saturday, Arizona will need more contributions, especially from Solomon Hill who was nonexistent on Saturday, only scoring seven points on 2-16 shooting. If UA can hold the Gators to sub 40% shooting and out rebound them by 10 or more, Wildcat fans will most likely leave McKale Center a happy camper.