The Arizona Wildcats needed 17 minutes to start looking like themselves, but that still left plenty of time to figure things out.
The Wildcats defeated Cal Poly Pomona 67-51 in an exhibition game this afternoon at McKale Center after trailing most of the first half, almost perfectly acting out coach Sean Miller’s comments three days earlier.
On Thursday in a UA news conference, Miller said the still-meshing Wildcats could “get off to a rocky start” this season and said he might only play five or six players at this point.
The Wildcats went off to a particularly rough start, failing to figure out how to navigate Cal Poly Pomona’s matchup zone defense and unable to shoot over it. They missed 15 of their first 20 field goals and trailed by up to seven points early.
Even though it was an exhibition game, Miller also did not get much production beyond his first six players.
Miller used his first six players – Gabe York, T.J. McConnell, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski – the most heavily while also receiving some production from guard Elliott Pitts and center Dusan Ristic off the bench.
Miller played backup point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and freshman forward Craig Victor and senior forward Matt Korcheck sparingly, and did not play guard Kadeem Allen at all.
Leading 26-19 at halftime after going on a 9-0 run to close out the first half, the Wildcats kept up their pace early in the second half, even as they slipped defensively.
Cal Poly Pomona shot 50 percent from the field over the first seven minutes of the second half but Arizona was still up 40-31 by the time Ristic made a short jump er with 13:05 left.
It was the first basket from Ristic, who was only the seventh player to score for Arizona at that point.
Halfway through the second half, Arizona finally pulled off the kind of move that has been expected of it: York fired an alleyoop pass from near the top of the key to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who stuffed it down for a 49-33 lead. From there, the Wildcats coasted.
Arizona went on a 9-0 tear to take a 26-19 halftime lead over Cal Poly Pomona and close out Wildcats’ otherwise difficult first half.
Before York hit his first of four three-point attempts with just under four minutes left, the Wildcats had made just 5 of 20 field goals and hit nine of their five-three-pointers against Cal Poly Pomona’s matchup zone defense. They were trailing 19-14, having held only a brief early lead before Pomona stayed on top most of the half.
But defense helped get the Wildcats untracked, with turnovers leading to easy baskets from York and Johnson down the stretch while UA managed to keep the Broncos scoreless for the final three minutes of the half.
Arizona wound up holding Cal Poly Pomona to 40-percent shooting from three-point range and overall from the field. York became the Wildcats' leading scorer in the half with nine points on 4-for-9 shooting while Ashley added seven points and three rebounds in his first public game since injuring his foot last Feb. 1 at Cal.
Cal Poly Pomona's Jordan Faison led all scorers in the first half with 11 points.
Things were going so roughly for the Wildcats through the middle of the first half that even Hollis-Jefferson pulled up short on a dunk attempt down the middle – and Faison scored for a second straight time on the Broncos’ ensuing possession to take an 18-12 lead.
At that point, Arizona had made just 5 of 18 from the field, missed all five three-pointers it took and turned the ball over five times.
Arizona trailed 9-6 after the first eight minutes, the lone bright spot being the more confident play of forward Ashley, who had four points on 2-for-2 shooting with two rebounds at that point. Ashley had played tentatively during the Oct. 18 Red-Blue Game.
Miller opted to start junior York over the much-hyped Johnson, who entered after the first four minutes, subbing for York, while the Wildcats initially struggled against the Broncos’ matchup zone defense. Through the first media timeout (with 15:31 left in the half), Arizona made just 1 of 5 field goals and had two turnovers.
Miller later inserted Pitts as the seventh player and later went with Ristic and Jackson-Cartwright. He made Victor the 10th player to enter the game and Korcheck played only late in the game.
The Wildcats will open their regular season on Friday against Mount St. Mary’s at McKale Center.