As Nick Johnson and Gabe York put their high-flying exclamation points in the final seconds of a 108-67 Arizona victory, fans started to get their heads wrapped around what this season may become if the Cats can continue to play with the dominance they did Wednesday night.
Sure, D-II Humboldt State will likely be the least challenging competition Arizona faces all season, but the cats came out fierce to start the season.
Leading the charge was the new captain of Point Guard U, Xavier transfer Mark "Cheeks" Lyons. After months of hearing questions of whether Lyons is capable of running the point, it was a relief – but not a surprise – to see him facilitate Sean Miller’s offense with ease.
In the opening minutes of the game, Lyons made his presence felt by smoothly nailing three pointers and dishing out clever assists. He accumulated a team high 18 points and five assists before fouling out with three minutes to go.
The players who benefited most from Lyons’ strong play were the big men. Kaleb Tarczewski in particular found himself with the ball in the paint time after time. On nearly every possession, he was able to use his dominant height advantage to score with ease.
The McKale crowd chanted “Zeus” every time he touched the ball, and he kept them quite busy. By game’s end he recorded a double-double, scoring 18 to go with 10 rebounds.
It was not just the Zeus show however, as Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley, the two other elite freshmen post players, both turned in strong performances.
Jerrett showed once again why NBA scouts are enamored with the quintessential power forward-center, as he scored in a multitude of ways. Ashley meanwhile put together a very strong second half and should see more than ample playing time.
Arizona also received strong play from the usual suspects: Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, Nick “Bunnies” Johnson, and Jordin Mayes, who dished out four assists.
Hill shot just 1-5 from behind the arc but still managed to rack up 15 points to go with eight boards. Johnson also contributed with double figures in scoring while Parrom, Mayes, and Angelo Chol all looked impressive in lesser time on the court.
The team as a whole shot nearly 60% from the field and made 11-25 three pointers. By those numbers alone, one might think Arizona is already in mid-season form but there is certainly great room for improvement, particularly on defense.
The Cats had trouble guarding the perimeter, something that also hindered them at times last year. Odds are that the staff will spend extra time focusing on the importance of each defender staying on his man.
On the positive side, Arizona’s decisive height advantage did prevent Humboldt State from finding any success down low and this is a theme that should stay constant throughout the season.
All in all, not much more could have been expected by the coaching staff in the Cats’ first exhibition game. The shooting was consistent and there are no glaring weaknesses like there were last year at this time.
40 point victory margins will not be the norm but tonight Arizona showed that the Cats have brought their claws this year. Bear down.