Arizona’s depth and size advantage were too much to overcome Thursday night in a 72-51 defeat of UTEP. The Cats exploited second chance opportunities and used a perimeter scoring attack to counter 19 amassed fouls.
In what might be a theme for the entire season, Arizona dominated the boards, out-rebounding the Miners by a 35-15 margin. With three stellar freshmen big men and the emergence of sophomore Angelo Chol, UTEP was helpless in the paint for much of the game.
In particular, Brandon Ashley exploited the disparity in height by grabbing four offensive rebounds, two of which led to put backs in the closing minutes. Ashley’s fellow class of 2012 members, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski, also had no trouble tearing it up down low, as they combined for 15 points and 13 boards, even though they saw limited scoring opportunities.
Chol was just as impactful and played with an aggression rarely seen from the Sudanese born forward. He slammed home a couple dunks that sent the McKale Center crowd rocking and provided the defensive presence the coaching staff is going to need from him throughout the season.
UTEP barely even thought of taking the ball to the paint in the second half and for good reason. While they received a few generous foul calls, there was nothing the refs could do about the Miners’ inability to get passed the Arizona defenders.
As a team, UTEP was held to just 36.4% from the field. The task for Arizona now is to replicate the same defensive intensity in each game.
While play in the paint was a culminating factor in the outcome, so was the play of seniors Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill.
Lyons came out of the gates firing and never slowed down, scoring a team-high 17 points. Arizona’s starting point guard will need to focus more on distributing the ball, and with accuracy, as he only dished one assist compared to four turnovers. Odds are Sean Miller will convey the message to Lyons in upcoming practices.
Hill, meanwhile, continues to show-off his refined shooting skills and overall strength. During a three minute sequence in the second half, he drained a three pointer, grabbed an offensive board and slammed home a put back dunk, hit a contested baseline jumper, and assisted Chol on a field goal. One can bet that those highlights will find their way onto the desk of an NBA scout or two.
All in all, Arizona put together a solid team performance against a respectable opponent. 19 team turnovers and fouls are both worrisome but even on nights like Thursday where certain uncontrollable aspects weren't going the Cats’ way, talent and depth prevailed.