CLEMSON, S.C. – Kaleb Tarczewski missed a few shots around the basket. Brandon Ashley took only five. And Grant Jerrett was 1 for 6 from the field in Arizona’s 66-54 win over Clemson.
In one way, that’s a good thing, the way UA coach Sean Miller sees it.
Facing Clemson and its big, aggressive defense was just another preseason test the Wildcats may benefit from when facing somebody like USC, Stanford or UCLA down the road.
Just like receiving a scare from Southern Miss and its zone defense on Tuesday was a learning experience, so was this.
“One of the things that happened to us against Southern Miss was it was the first time (the young post players) played against a frenetic zone and you could really see it,” Miller said. “Tonight was the first time they played against what I would consider a high-major, physical frontline on the road.
“Some shots that they normally get off easily didn’t happen tonight but that’s why you come and play games like this. They now know and they’ll be better the next time it comes. I think that’s the good news for Arizona, that we’re far from a finished product. We have a lot of young players who will continue to develop as our season moves forward.”
Guard Nick Johnson, the guy Lyons likened to a “fifth-year senior” because of his maturity, said he also thought the Clemson game was a valuable experience.
“Every game we’re getting more experience,” Johnson said. “Our young guys are getting games under their belt and our older guys are learning how to play with our younger guys. We’re just sticking with it.”
Johnson said he wasn’t concerned even when UA trailed by six points in the second half.
“I've been there before. I know Mark and Solo have been there before,” Johnson said. “It’s getting our freshmen used to that. We’re not going to be leading every single game this season. But we're getting used to that and learning to buckle down on defense.”
Miller said he was encouraged to see the Wildcats win a game in which they shot only 35.5 percent from the field... and Clemson coach Brad Brownell was probably just as surprised.
"Our field goal percentage defense was outstanding," Brownell said. "I think they're 52 percent for the year and we held them to 35 percent shooting. They're making 10 threes a game, shooting 42 percent from the three. You look at those numbers and I would've told you that we would've been in great shape.
"We wanted to limit their threes and keep them off the line, and we wanted to do our best on the boards. We didn't do our best on the boards. There were a lot of loose balls and extra possessions that hurt us. I'm anxious to watch the film and see the result of that."
The Wildcats survived Clemson's defense in part by getting 20 offensive rebounds that led to 18 second-chance points. UA outrebounded Clemson 44-33 overall.
“Like coach Miller always says, we want to keep with our identity,” Ashley said.
“The fact that we’re such a large team, we want to make sure we’re always crashing the glass and dominating the glass. If we get 40 percent of our offensive (shots) back that means we’re working real hard on the glass, getting more shots and it’s going to make it easier on us.”
Our game story (which will be posted at midnight) had a lot of discussion about Mark Lyons, but I couldn’t fit in all of what Miller said about him. Here’s more:
“If you watched him play tonight, you could make the argument that he’s the best player on the court,” Miller said. “He had four assists and one turnover. He didn’t all of a sudden figure it out between last week and this week -- it’s just he’s a little more like our freshmen in that the more he practices and the more he plays the more he’ll settle in and get better at some things I know he can do.
“He has a huge heart and I would rather have a guard and a player on our team with that type of confidence and heart … one of the things he’s really good at when the going gets tough is he rises up.”
Lyons had eight assists and 18 turnovers in the five games leading up to tonight, but posted four assists and one turnover against the Tigers. He had two assists and three turnovers against Southern Miss, when the Wildcats gave up 27 turnovers all together.
“He’s played a number of really good games, and like our team, he’s had a lot of turnovers,” Miller said. “We had a lot of turnovers in our last game and he only had three of them. We had a lot of culprits, and on the road tonight, he has four assists and one turnover. And one of the things he’s really good at is making clutch free throws. He’s an excellent free throw shooter. And in the last few minutes of games he’s great to have on the line for us. “
When I told Miller that Lyons said he actually preferred road games to home games, Miller did not appear surprised.
“He likes challenges,” Miller said. “Just watching the big games he’s played in at Xavier -- everyone respect their program and what they’ve been able to do -- he’s been a part of a lot of that. He brings that ingredient and that quality to our team and it’s fun to play with a guy who believes he can win and believes in himself. His confidence can be contagious.”
They've turned off all the lights here at Littlejohn Coliseum, so that's all I can post for now... but here's the official box score.