LUBBOCK, Texas – Mark Lyons scored another 14 points tonight but it’s that other part of his game that is drawing Sean Miller’s concern.
Lyons had four turnovers and zero assists against Texas Tech. In his last four games, he had six assists and 12 turnovers.
“I am concerned and we’re addressing it,” Miller said after UA’s 85-57 win. “But he also brings things to the table that are very evident. I mean, he can score. I thought his baskets in the first half in particular set the tone for the game.”
Miller said Lyons, who transferred to Arizona in large part to play point guard after playing off the ball at Xavier, still has a lot to learn about the position.
The UA staff is “just trying to show him where to go, when not to,” Miller said. “Decisions. Learning more about the system that we have. With each day, he’s a willing learner. He wants to get better, and he’ll turn the ball over less.”
Miller added that “one deceiving part of our team” is that Nick Johnson is also playing a point-guard type role. Johnson had only one assist tonight but no turnovers and he has 13 assists to only one turnover in the past three games.
“He’s making some really good plays,” Miller said.
One of the few times UA fed Kaleb Tarczewski the ball came in the second half, when Kevin Parrom zipped a pass inside and Tarczewski finished with an unstoppable dunk to give the Wildcats a 50-28 lead.
No doubt Miller would like to see more of that.
Actually, he will see more of that – if he has anything to do with it.
“As his coach, I promise you that he’ll be getting it more as we keep moving down” the schedule, Miller said. “Part of November and December is you have to get better. You have to work out the kinks. You have to learn who can do what.
“I certainly think he’s established that the more we can get him the ball in the paint, it will only compliment the things that he’s doing well for us right now.”
Miller said Tarczewski is “unselfish,” and perhaps characteristically, Tarczewski responded this way when I asked him if it was difficult to keep focusing on rebounding when he does not get the ball.
“I think you can see by how many points we scored tonight that offense isn’t a problem for us,” Tarczewski said. “We were getting open shots, great looks, our field goal percentage shows that. So whether the ball goes in the post or not, if offense is doing well that’s all that matters. I’m going to contribute when I can, whether that’s on the glass or whatever I can do to help.”
Texas Tech cut UA’s lead to 55-42 with 13:06 remaining but the Wildcats were up by 30 seven minutes later.
Even though Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Johnson played key offensive roles in that span, Johnson credited UA’s veteran leaders for taking charge.
“We’ve got a lot of veteran players, Solomon, Mark, Kev (Parrom) – they kept us in it, then ket us composed and everything,” Johnson said. “We knew they were going to make a run.”
In the first half, Texas Tech cut UA’s lead to three points twice thanks to what Johnson called a “chaos defense.”
“They get up, they pressure the ball,” Johnson said. “So it’s a little difficult. But once we settled in and we knew what they were going to do, it went from there.”
Texas Tech coach Chris Walker, whose team averaged 13 steals entering tonight’s game, said the Red Raiders could not press UA like it does other teams.
“Their guards are good, so we had to do adjustments,” Walker said. “We pressured them a lot. We really tried to get after them. But again, they have a lot of really good players. What we have to do going forward is get our guys to play smarter on offense.”
On the other end of the court, Walker also said Texas Tech’s scoreless spans were partly a function of what the Wildcats were doing and partly because of a snowballing lack of confidence.
“I think they're just a really good team,” he said of Arizona. “The court is so small with guys that are long. I think if we go back and look at the tape, there are a lot of shots that we just missed. We just missed some chippies. We had that the last couple games inside. We're just not finishing.
“To go back and play defense every single time after missing a shot like that gets deflating to those guys. On top of that, they haven't had to experience that. We had that against Jackson State, but we weren't playing Jackson State tonight. (Arizona) can get you down, keep you down, they play with poise. You can't speed them up. They've got size and experienced guards.”
Miller said it also helped the Wildcats that Texas Tech forward Jordan Tolbert picked up three first-half fouls and played only six minutes before halftime. Tolbert, the Red Raiders’ leading scorer last season, fouled out with four points in nine minutes.
“We were lucky tonight to get Tolbert in foul trouble,” Miller said. “I thought that was a big, big key for us. With him out there for a longer duration, that gives him a physical presence to go along with their pace.”
Defensively, the Wildcats held Texas Tech to 34.9 percent shooting and 28.6 percent from three point range, the lowest marks a UA opponent has had all season so far.
But Johnson said there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
“I think we're nowhere near where we need to be,” Johnson said. With “our young guys, it was their first road game. So I mean, just getting used to that, which we'll keep on continuing doing, and our defense at times looked pretty good other times we lacked a little bit. Every part of our game we can get better in and we're just going to keep on practicing and get better at that so we can be the best we can be.”
Walker was asked if he likes the controversial rule allowing graduated players such as Lyons to transfer and play elsewhere immediately.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “I don't know his particular situation, but I'm all about helping kids. If that is something that helped him, that was instrumental in him becoming a better man, and Sean Miller actually recruited him and he had a chance … to better his situation, why not? They're kids. It's not the NBA. They're not making a lot of money doing this. If that's something that made him feel comfortable, that's going to make a difference in his life, God bless him.”
Our full coverage will be posted at midnight. Here's the official box score.