Defensive pressure overwhelms Sonoma State in 40-point win
It was over before it started last night, as the Arizona men's basketball team cruised to a 103-63 victory over Sonoma State in the first exhibition game of the year in McKale Center.
After struggling initially, the Wildcats' full-court pressure defense proved to be overwhelming for the visiting Seawolves.
Arizona used a 17-0 run in the first half to make the score 31-15, holding Sonoma scoreless for over five minutes.
"Our press can work," said senior guard Hassan Adams, who scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting and had 6 assists.
Arizona had 14 steals and forced 23 turnovers, thanks in part to fellow senior guard Chris Rodgers, who led all scorers with 19 points, including a perfect 5-of-5 performance from 3-point range.
"I got some good looks tonight," Rodgers said. "I was open, I got good passes and my teammates hit me in my shot pockets. I was looking to be aggressive."
The Wildcats dominated the end of the first half as well, going on a 24-5 spurt over the last 5:16 to take a 64-29 halftime lead.
"We set out and run," said freshman guard J.P Prince, who led the team with 10 assists. "We got a lot of talented wings, a lot of athletic guys."
Freshman forward Marcus Williams once again played well, scoring 17 points in 21 minutes and drawing praise from Arizona head coach Lute Olson.
"I thought Marcus Williams played well on both ends of the court," Olson said.
Olson used every player wearing a uniform, except freshman walk-on David Bagga, in the first half, and 12 guys played double-figure minutes in the game.
Olson had said prior to the game that he wanted to see where each player stood, so that he can eventually cut down his rotation.
"It was a good opportunity for us to see a lot of guys," he said.
Down low for the Wildcats, senior forward Isaiah Fox came off the bench to score seven points and grab four rebounds, while redshirt freshman center Mohamed Tangara had eight points and five rebounds in a rare start.
"I had a decent game," Fox said. "It was fun to get out there on the court. I wish I didn't air ball that one shot, but other than that, I played pretty good."
Last night was not only the debut for the players, but also for the student section.
Fans lined up as early as 3:00 p.m. for the 7:30 tip off, ordered pizzas and generally hung out before they were let into McKale Center two hours before the start of the game.
Junior Charlie Odhner, a business management major, was the first person through the doors.
"I really like it," he said of the student section's debut. "It's a lot better now that we're together."
Junior marketing major Billy Phillips got in line at 3:30 and said there were about 20 people ahead of him in line. The first 700 students received wrist bands and were guaranteed seating in the lower level of the section.
"It's definitely better this year," Phillips said. "We still need to get more in unison. We can be louder."
Adams said the team fed off the energy from the crowd.
"I love it, to see your peers out there," Adams said. "It's about time. ... I wish the whole school could come in here and root for us."
Olson was similarly impressed with the students, saying that the student section reminded him of fans at Arizona football home games.
"I thought it was great ... for all the students to be able to stand up for the whole game without anyone yelling for them to sit down," he said.
"I think (the basketball student section) is a great idea," he said. "They take pride in having an effect on the outcome of the game. It was great for us to stand up and look at that section and see nothing but red."
Sophomore guard Jesus Verdejo did not play in the game and will redshirt this season. Verdejo suffered a left foot injury earlier in the week and met with Olson to discuss his future.
Olson, Verdejo and Verdejo's family, as well as Verdejo's high school coach, were all supportive of the decision.
"I trust him," Verdejo said of Olson. "It's the best for me because right now I'm hurt.
Verdejo said he was fine with Olson's choice.
"I took it well," he said. "I'm okay with the decision, I'm straight. Whatever he tells me to do, I'm going to do it."
Olson said Verdejo would be a valuable asset during practices, playing a vital role on the scout team.
Arizona inks three prep stars on national letter-of-intent day
The Wildcats officially inked three incoming freshman, including 6-foot-7 forward Chase Budinger from Carlsbad, Calif.
"He is an unbelievable athlete," Olson said. "He's a great 3-point shooter, (a) great volleyball player, so he can use both hands very well. The first time that I saw him, I thought this guy was going to be unbelievable. Plus, he's a great kid."
Arizona also signed point guard Nic Wise from Houston, who committed to the Wildcats in his freshman year of high school, and 6-foot-8 forward Jordan Hill from Atlanta.
"All three of those guys coming in are great people, No. 1, and Chase will have the ability to be as good as anybody's that's played here," Olson said.