Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
The 'Cats improved to 9-0 on Tuesday night, which gives them their best start since the 1987-88 season.
When the Arizona Wildcats stepped onto the floor on Tuesday night, there was cause for concern. The 'Cats were coming off an emotional last-second win over Florida, which propelled them into the top five of both major polls. And given that they were in the middle of a stretch in which they would play five games in nine days, the odds of a lackadaisical effort against an inferior opponent was high.
Five minutes into the game, Arizona answered any questions people had about their ability to stay focused. UA moved out to an early double-digit lead over Oral Roberts and never looked back, picking up a 89-64 win.
Here were a couple of things that stood out from Tuesday's win.
- For the first time this season, the post players all had big games. Brandon Ashley had 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks. Grant Jerrett went 6-for-8 from the field on his way to 15 points in just 21 minutes of action. Kaleb Tarczewski was limited by a couple of suspect foul calls, but still impacted the paint on both ends of the court whenever he was able to play. Angelo Chol, who has seen his minutes shrink in recent weeks, had six rebounds and three blocks in 13 minutes. When all four of these guys play well, Arizona is just about impossible to beat.
- Mark Lyons had seven assists, which is nearly double his season-high with the Wildcats. He did turn the ball over three times, although two of those came in garbage time. When Lyons, who also had a team-best 17 points, is facilitating the offense instead of just looking for his shot, everyone benefits.
- Nick Johnson might be the most under-appreciated player in the country right now. The sophomore guard continued to do it all without receiving much praise; Johnson had 12 points, three rebounds, three rebounds and four steals, and he locked down Warren Niles, who averages nearly 21 points a game.
- Arizona continued to shoot well from the free throw line. They went 13-for-18 on Tuesday, with two of the misses coming after Tarczewski appeared to injure his shooting hand on the previous play. As long as UA can keep this number above 75 percent in most of their games -- it was 78 percent entering Tuesday -- coach Sean Miller has to like his team's chances moving forward.
- The win improved Arizona to 9-0, which is the best mark since the 1987-88 Final Four team began the campaign with 12 straight wins. UA is also fourth in the AP Poll, which is the program's highest ranking in nine years. This is an awfully good team, folks, and it's been a joy watching them the past month.
Next up is the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii over the holiday break. There are a couple of big potential matchups on the horizon, including showdowns with two quality teams in Miami and San Diego State. We will continue to learn a lot about this group over the course of the next week. Up first on Saturday night is two-win East Tennessee State.