Now it’s clear why the Arizona Wildcats are the No. 6-ranked team in the country.
After stumbling a bit through an 11-point win over Cal Poly in their regular-season opener on Friday, Arizona tore apart a rebuilding mid-major opponent in Long Beach State tonight at McKale Center.
The final score was 91-57 but you didn’t have to see the scoreboard to know what happened.
Body language told the story pretty well.
The Wildcats mixed a balanced offense and sticky defense with plenty of show-stopping dunks steals and three-pointers, keeping the McKale Center crowd entertained despite the wide margin of scoring.
In the end, Brandon Ashley led the Wildcats in scoring with 16 points but three UA players had 14 each: Gabe York, Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon.
Gordon added 10 rebounds to record his second double-double in as many college games, while Kaleb Tarczewski had 10 points to go with nine rebounds.
Then there was point guard T.J. McConnell dishing eight assists to only two turnovers.
Ashley was named the MVP of the game chosen as this season’s “Fiesta Bowl Classic,” a remnant of what used to be a four-team early season tournament.
Dan Jennings led LBSU with 16 points, as the 49ers shot just 27 percent from the field and made only 5 of 23 three-point shots.
The win moved Arizona to 2-0 heading into an early season showdown on Thursday at San Diego State. The Wildcats beat the Aztecs 68-67 in the final of last season’s Diamond Head Classic, thanks to a late blocked shot by Nick Johnson.
The 91 points UA scored was its most since beating NAU 93-50 early last season.
The 49ers managed to play Arizona evenly through the first 10 minutes of the second half, though the Wildcats threw in some more highlights along the way.
Gabe York connected with Nick Johnson for an alley oop dunk in the early second half, as York did in the first half, while T.J. McConnell took a break from passing to hit a three-pointer over the Long Beach State zone later in the half to give UA a 61-33 lead.
With 9:45 left, forward Zach Peters made his collegiate debut after a long, concussion-filled struggle that included spending the 2012 fall semester at Kansas.
Peters has practiced in all but full contact drills since arriving at Arizona over the summer, but wasn’t medically cleared to play fully until a week ago. He then practiced but did not play in UA’s opener on Friday against Cal Poly.
In the final minutes, Arizona was even able to play its walk-ons along with forward Matt Korcheck, who had made his UA debut in the first half.
Arizona took a 44-18 halftime lead over Long Beach State by holding the 49ers to just 14.3-percent shooting – and just one field goal for more than nine minutes to start the game – while it combined that defense with splashy offensive moves by Gordon, McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, York and Johnson.
York led all scorers with 12 points in the half on 4-for-5 three-point shooting while Gordon had 11 points and seven rebounds. McConnell had seven assists to just two turnovers.
Johnson added eight points and Ashley had six points for the Wildcats, who started Tarczewski after the sophomore center sat out the beginning of UA’s game against Cal Poly on Friday because of a sore hip.
Long Beach State shot just 5 of 35 overall and hit just 1 of 14 three pointers.
Arizona took an early 16-4 lead after eight minutes by holding LBSU to just 1 of 12 shooting. The Wildcats then increased their lead to 24-9 just 12 minutes into the game.
Gordon announced his presence early again, dunking from the baseline on a feed from McConnell just 84 seconds into the game, while coming back for a rebound basket on a subsequent possession.
After York connected an alley-oop pass with Johnson to bring the McKale Center crowd to its feet late in the half, giving UA a 42-15 lead, Gordon came back in the final seconds for a tip-in that gave the Wildcats the final 26-point halftime margin.
Korcheck made his UA career debut late in the first half. He sat out last season as a transfer from Cochise College and did not play in the Wildcats' opener against Cal Poly on Friday. He dunked in the second half for his only score of the game.