A difficult exhibition season behind them, the Arizona Wildcats started the regular season as expected tonight by beating Valparaiso 73-64 in a 2K Sports Classic game at McKale Center.
The Wildcats split their two exhibition games, losing 69-68 to Seattle Pacific and beating Humboldt State 60-51. Then, tonight, UA led Valpo only 32-30 at halftime before their defense helped propel a 10-0 second half run.
Arizona led 48-33 at the end of the run, though its lead shrank slightly the rest of the way.
The Wildcats will now host Duquesne on Wednesday at McKale Center in their second game of the 2K Sports Classic, formerly known as Coaches vs. Cancer. The Dukes have not yet opened their season.
Jesse Perry scored 14 points and collected 10 rebounds for Arizona while guard Kyle Fogg had 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting to shake off an exhibition shooting slump.
Fogg had made just 3 of 13 combined field goals over Arizona's two exhibiton games after taking about 40,000 practice shots over the summer. Coach Sean Miller said last week Fogg's troubles were strongly related to the Wildcats' inability to find him good shots.
Nick Johnson had 14 points for Arizona while Solomon Hill and Jordin Mayes had eight each.
After building a 15-point lead during the opening nine minutes of the second half, Arizona could not pull ahead further until the final minutes of the game. Perry hit a 12-footer to give UA a 66-46 lead with 2:30 to go but Valparaiso cut it to 10 points with a three-pointer by Will Bogan with 52 seconds left.
Another Valpo three, by Jay Harris, cut UA's lead to 71-62 with 23 seconds left.
Arizona held Valparaiso without a field goal for the first 8:29 of the second half, before Matt Kenney made a layup. By then, the Wildcats had increased a two-point halftime lead to 48-35.
Jordin Mayes had two three-pointers and an 18-foot jumper during that stretch
Early in the second half, Fogg had four points to help give the Wildcats a 38-33 lead with 15:31 left.
In the first half, Perry had 10 points and five rebounds in the first half to give the Wildcats a slight halftime lead, 32-30.
Fogg and Johnson added eight points each for the Wildcats, who shot 39.3 percent overall from the field.
Big man Kevin Van Wijk led the Crusaders with nine points in the half.
Perry made a layup with 1:27 left that gave Arizona a 31-30 lead in a game that changed leads eight times.
Valpo took a 24-20 lead with 5:49 left thanks in part to two three-pointers from Ryan Broekoff.
After Kyryl Natayzhko batted away an errant pass, Nick Johnson fired in a three-pointer to give UA a brief 25-24 lead before Erik Buggs drove in for a layup on the other end, putting Valpo back up 26-25.
With centers Kyryl Natyazhko and Angelo Chol both having picked up two fouls, freshman Sidiki Johnson briefly entered the game with 7:51 to go, but took two questionable shots and was immediately pulled out of th game in favor of Natyazhko.
UA coach Sean Miller said last week that Chol was moving from power forward to center and would split time with Natyazhko while Johnson continued to develop.
UA led 18-11 early in the first half, but a three-pointer at the top of the key by Valpo's Ryan Broekoff cut UA's lead to 18-15 at the third media timeout, with 7:51 left.
Chol had hit a 12-footer from the baseline to put the Wildcats ahead 18-12.
Arizona led 12-9 at the second media timeout, with 11:35 remaining in the first half.
At that point, both teams were shooting 4 of 11 from the field, though Fogg was 2 for 2 and hit 3 of 4 free throws, for seven points.
Miller started the same five players he did in the exhibition games: Josiah Turner, Fogg, Solomon Hill, Perry and Natyazhko.
Chol and Jordin Mayes were the first off the bench, entering the game with 17 minutes left in the first half.