Greg Hansen: As openers go, Charleston So. no chump

2012-11-12T00:00:00Z 2012-11-12T13:08:35Z Greg Hansen: As openers go, Charleston So. no chumpGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 12, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The truth, the whole truth, half-truths, shades of the truth and other items admissible as college-basketball-in-November news:

• It's not true that Lute Olson always took on the giants of the game, anytime and anyplace. He was smart enough to know you had to break in gently, even when his roster was stacked with Final Four talent.

Over the last 30 years, the Arizona Wildcats have opened their home basketball season against a list of not-ready-for-prime-time chumps, including six games against NAU, two against Long Beach State, and others against Houston Baptist, Austin Peay, Morgan State, Hawaii Pacific and Florida Atlantic.

On Sunday, Charleston Southern was a load, unafraid, a team that could win five or six games against a Pac-12 schedule. It would be a split against ASU.

The only ranked team to open the McKale season was No. 16 LSU on Dec. 7, 1992. Yes, some guy named Shaq started at center. Arizona won 87-67, but the Wildcats prepared for that game with two in Hawaii.

"That's a dangerous team we played," UA coach Sean Miller said after the Wildcats beat the Buccaneers 82-73. "I know no one wants to hear it when you say Charleston Southern is good; they think the coach is just trying to (fill all the seats)."

• On Opening Day, McKale Center responded with a Big Game atmosphere, which is the way big boys do it from Kansas to Kentucky. When Zona Zoo rocks, as it did Sunday, it feeds on itself and sets a standard for further less-than-marquee matchups over the next six weeks.

If you put in the time for a Sunday afternoon game, forgoing big screen NFL action to watch a team from South Carolina, it should mean you should make it to a Thursday night start against UTEP.

But Zona Zoo does need some work to give proper treatment to the potentially powerful "I believe that we will win!'' chant made famous by good ol' Utah State. The students butchered it Sunday. It was the Zoo's opening game, too.

• Michael Dickerson was at McKale on Sunday, his once-familiar face flashed on the big video screen, and it made me think that the UA needs to tinker with its qualifications to the Ring of Honor. Dickerson's continued absence in the rafters is awkward.

Dickerson was the leading scorer on Arizona's 1997 NCAA championship team, was a two-time All-Pac-10 forward and remains the No. 8 career scorer (1,791 points). His personality and character were both unimpeachable during his UA days, and he was a first-round NBA draft pick. He belongs in the rafters with the other UA legends.

• Pac-12 referee David Hall worked Sunday's game; he is a Final Four veteran and among the handful of officials in the league worthy of any big-game calling.

Unfortunately for Arizona, he only worked last year's UA-ASU game here, and the opener, against Valpo. He's one guy you don't mind seeing at the center-jump circle before a big game.

Hall, 57, worked 95 games last year at a pay scale that now goes as high as $2,400 per game in the Pac-12, from which the ref must pay expenses. He retired from a Fortune 500 software company eight years ago to concentrate solely on officiating.

There are no more "break-in" games for college basketball officials. You don't get a guy from the Big Sky in the preseason just to give him some experience. There's too much at stake.

• Sunday's opener coincided with Josiah Turner's first start for the Halifax Rainmen of the Canadian pro basketball league. Last year's starting point guard didn't start Halifax's first three games; he scored 15 points Sunday against the Moncton Miracles.

In his place, UA senior Mark Lyons produced a winning statistical line: 17 points, six assists, no turnovers and he made all five of his free-throw attempts. What a difference from the inconsistent and offensively challenged Turner.

"One thing I know about him, in the biggest moments, Mark delivers and he's always done that," said Miller.

• At one stretch in the second half Sunday, with Arizona leading by fewer than six points, the Wildcats attempted eight consecutive three-pointers, making three. Lyons, Solomon Hill, Jordin Mayes and Nick Johnson were the shooters.

It pressed the question: does Arizona have a go-to shooter? Hill made four of his eight three-point shots, which is a good indication that his shooting stroke, and range, have improved significantly.

In his first three college seasons, Hill never made four three-pointers in a game (he only made three of them on four occasions). His technique is much improved, and you can sense he enjoys being in position to take a game-changing shot, which is often much of the battle.

Hill has now made 62 three-pointers in his UA days. Don't expect him to break 100 this year; only Salim Stoudamire (120), Steve Kerr (114) and Damon Stoudamire (112) have made more than 100 in a single season.

• It was a bit unexpected when Miller moved Hill to the power forward spot late in the game, in crunch time. But wouldn't you?

Miller has talked at length about Hill's permanent move to the wing, but Miller is coaching to win, not to audition Hill for the NBA.

"We played Solomon at the four because that's what we needed to do to win the game," said Miller. "He knows how to play the four for what you call special situations, late-game and end-of-game situations. That's the value of having someone like Solomon on the team; he can do so many things to help you win."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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