After a shaky first half of play, the Arizona Wildcats used a big second half to propel themselves to a 73-64 victory over the Valparaiso Crusaders.
Senior guard Kyle Fogg led the team with 16 points and Jesse Perry earned the first double-double of his career with 14 points and 10 rebounds. In his first game as a Wildcat, freshman Nick Johnson converted eight free throws in route to a 14 point, six assist game.
Arizona started off slowly and struggled with turnovers until finding their grove late in the first half. With a lead of just 32-30 at the half, the 'Cats scored 41 in the second half and gradually pulled away. The final score was closer than the game actually was; UA led by 20 points with just over four minutes to go and late free throws and three pointers inched the Crusaders back into the game during the final seconds.
While Perry, Fogg and Johnson led in scoring, it was the second half performances of Jordin Mayes and freshman Angelo Chol that stole the show. Mayes converted two three-point shots and finished the game with eight points after failing to score in the first 20 minutes. Chol's stat line is not overly impressive -- 6 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 5 fouls in 23 minutes -- but his defensive impact was felt all game with four steals and solid rotations around the basket.
With Kyryl Natyazhko battling foul trouble and the inability to be an effective offensive player, Chol could be the starting center sooner rather than later. And while some believe freshman Sidiki Johnson should continue to get chances to contribute, Sean Miller had a very telling quote after the game.
"Hopefully he can work to get better," said Miller, "but I'm not counting on it."
Those are big words from a head coach and he has made it known he was not happy with Johnson's progress thus far. UA can only hope Sidiki takes this criticism and uses it to make great strides in practice the next few weeks. The team needs his size and strength in the paint.
There were rough patches for Arizona throughout the game, but the season opener should be viewed as a success.
Next Up: The Wildcats have just one day of practice before returning to McKale to face the Duquesne Dukes. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.