No. 8 Arizona 66, Clemson 54
UA-CLEMSON

College basketball: Wildcats outclaw Tigers

Led by Lyons, Arizona shows 'resolve,' rallies to shake off Clemson
2012-12-09T00:01:00Z 2014-08-01T11:22:32Z College basketball: Wildcats outclaw TigersBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 09, 2012 12:01 am  • 

CLEMSON, S.C. - Go ahead, tell Mark Lyons he's struggling. That he isn't a point guard.

And put him in front of 8,000 screaming, orange-clad fans and see if it adversely affects him.

It does not. At least if Arizona's 66-54 win at Clemson on Saturday is any indication.

Lyons scored 20 points, with four assists and one turnover, hitting key shots and free throws to lead the No. 8 Wildcats (7-0) in a game when momentum shifted greatly from one team to another.

Arizona led 17-5 early, but fell behind 42-36 early in the second half - before closing with an 11-0 run that gave them a comfortable lead for good late in the game.

"If someone makes a (big) run on you and you're on the road, that's usually curtains," UA coach Sean Miller said. "But to our team's credit, we had a ton of resolve. We made some tough plays to stay in the game and then just seemed to get that momentum back that we had early in the game."

One reason: Lyons' confidence did not appear to waver. While the senior transfer from Xavier missed all seven shots he took on Tuesday against Southern Mississippi, Lyons hit 7 of 13 field goals and all five free throws he took.

He also had a positive assist-turnover ratio for the first time since UA's season opener, a streak that drew high-profile critiques of his game.

"Mark Lyons, I'm not sure why, he's easy to criticize," Miller said. "We've played seven games. He's taking criticism he doesn't deserve."

Miller said Lyons' confidence seemed to be down during the Southern Miss game, and while Lyons played more aggressively Saturday, he said he didn't change.

"I wasn't down at all," Lyons said. "My teammates are in better position in some games; some games I'm not going to make shots and some games I am. I don't have to shoot a lot because I have great players around me. That's just an adjustment I'm making this year."

One of many adjustments. Lyons is a fifth-year player but this is his first one at Arizona and, as Miller points out, the first that he has been a full-time point guard.

"I'm just trying to figure it out," Lyons said. "A lot of people want me to score. If I'm not scoring, I'm not having a good game. If I'm turning the ball over, I'm not having a good game. But really, I just bring leadership and chemistry to my team. That's all."

Well, on Saturday, he brought more than that. Lyons jumpstarted the Wildcats' effort at the beginning, quieting down the Tigers' rowdy crowd early to the point where the loudest early cheer was the guy at a timeout reminding everyone that the Tiger football team was headed to the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Lyons made his first two shots, one a three-pointer and had one assist to one turnover as UA charged out to a 12-4 lead. The Wildcats never trailed in the first half, during which Lyons had 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

His shooting kept alive a group of teammates that were, at the same time, struggling to find their shots against an aggressive Clemson defense.

Arizona made just 29.4 percent of its field goals in the first half, with Solomon Hill going 1 for 8 and Kaleb Tarczewski 2 for 5. Even steady guard Nick Johnson missed a pair of layups early.

But they kept going.

"You can't get frustrated when you're missing shots," said freshman forward Brandon Ashley, who finished with nine points and six rebounds.

In the end, it was UA's defense that won out.

The Wildcats held Clemson to 38.5 percent shooting and were never seriously threatened after they went on an 11-0 run to take a 55-47 lead with 3:55 to go.

"Our defensive intensity wore down a little bit," Clemson's K.J. McDaniels said.

After making less than 30 percent of their shots in the first half, the Wildcats struggled early in the second half. Arizona led 28-24 at halftime but Clemson had a 37-36 lead by the time Tigers guard Rod Hall made a layup with 12:57 left.

At that point, Hill had shot 2 of 12 from the field, and Grant Jerrett had just airballed a 12-footer. And, afterward, UA dared Hall to shoot a three-pointer (he had not taken one all season) and Hall hit it to give Clemson a 42-36 lead.

But UA tied it at 44 with 8:53 left after Ashley scored twice inside and later went on the 11-0 run to take a 55-47 lead that Clemson never recovered from.

During the run, Jordin Mayes hit a three-pointer, Tarczewski rolled off a screen to score inside and Jerrett hit his first field goal since UA beat Texas Tech a week earlier.

Miller said he told his team during the middle of the second half to "just stay with it," and they did.

"Coming here, we didn't think we were going to roll in here and it would be easy," Miller said. "We knew it was going to be hard. …

"It wasn't a great pep talk as much as I wanted to make sure that we didn't lose our complete focus and not say 'not tonight' or 'wow.' To see us not get caught up in that, and continue to fight … we played some excellent basketball."

On StarNet: See more photos from UA's win over Clemson at azstarnet.com/gallery

Up next

• What: No. 6 Florida (7-0) at No. 8 Arizona (7-0)

• When: 8 p.m. Saturday

• TV; radio: ESPN; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

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