No. 5 Arizona dominates overmatched Rhode Island

Updated at: 11/20/2013 7:35 PM
By BOB BAUM

(AP) TUCSON, Ariz. - For the 21st straight time, Rhode Island played a ranked team and lost.

And it wasn’t even close.

No. 5 Arizona overcame a slow start and raced past the Rams 87-59 Tuesday night in the second round of the NIT Season Tip-Off.

To say Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley was impressed with the team that beat him would be an understatement.

"We were kind of shell-shocked," he said. "They’re a very good team at both ends of the floor. They contest everything from the 3-point line and at the basket. I imagine that’s as close to playing an NBA team in terms of personnel and ability.

"That’s as good a college basketball team as I’ve seen in person."

The Rams figure the drubbing will have some positive ramifications down the road.

"Playing against Arizona," guard Xavier Munford said, "in this type of environment, the type of quality of players, we definitely can use this game as a learning experience going into conference play."

Hurley agreed.

"We won’t see a team like this again," he said. "That’s the reality of what we saw on the road. It was the first time we heard a real crowd and had a tough time communicating. It should make the next game feel different."

Nick Johnson had 20 points, a career-high 10 rebounds and six assists to lead Arizona. Brandon Ashley added 16 points, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 13 and Aaron Gordon 12 for the Wildcats (5-0), who play Drexel in the tournament semifinals Nov. 27 in Madison Square Garden. No. 6 Duke plays Alabama in the other semifinal.

Munford scored 22 on 7-of-18 shooting for the Rams (3-2), who never led. No other Rhode Island player reached double figures.

The Wildcats led by 24 at halftime and as many as 32 after that.

Arizona coach Sean Miller wasn’t surprised with what arguably was Johnson’s most complete game yet.

"Each year that he’s been at Arizona he’s improved," Miller said. "His freshman year he was solid, his sophomore year he was better and I think I said this all preseason, I look at him becoming an all-conference player. He reminds me a lot of the track that Solomon Hill was on _ each year adding on to the track of what he already did well."

Not everything Tuesday night earned Miller’s approval.

Arizona got off to a sloppy start, with four early turnovers, and was up only 10-6 after Rhode Island’s Biggie Minnis scored with 10:50 left in the first half.

"For the first time coaching our team I really felt like the first 8 minutes of the game we weren’t a cohesive unit," Miller said. "I wouldn’t call us selfish as much as we had a few of those `my turn’ type of shots, where `I didn’t get one last time so let me take one this time.’ That never works out. It’s a disaster waiting to happen."

The Wildcats scored six quick points, four by Johnson, in a 13-3 spurt that made it 23-9 on Hollis-Jefferson’s dunk on a lob from T.J. McConnell with 6:54 left in the half. Munford’s basket cut the lead to 23-11, then the Wildcats went on a 14-3 run. Gordon had a reverse dunk on a lob from McConnell, then Hollis-Jefferson sank a 3. Arizona led 37-14 and the rout was on.

In the final minute of the half, McConnell sank a 3 and Ashley made two from the foul line to put the Wildcats up 43-19 at the break.

The Rams shot 25 percent in the first half (7 for 28) to Arizona’s 56 percent (18 of 32).

Arizona outscored Rhode Island 13-6 to start the second half to go up 56-25 on Johnson’s two free throws with 15:20 to play.

The Rams, who struggled to beat Metro State 66-63 in the first round Monday night, put together a 19-7 run that cut the lead to 63-44 on a pair of free throws by Munford with 8:46 to play. Rhode Island had a chance to get closer but Gordon blocked Matthew Butler’s shot and Gabe York sank a 3-pointer. Rhode Island never got it under 20 again.

Rhode Island’s last victory over a ranked team came against then-No. 25 Utah on Dec. 2, 1998.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)