“We’re far from perfect but I like our hustle,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “Evidence lies in the number of charges we attempted to take, some of which were called, and a number of shot blocks and hard plays on the ball. For us this year, that’s the direction we’re going to have to go. We’re going to have to be an excellent defensive team.”
Paul Thomas scored 14 and Efe Odigie 11 for the Miners (1-2).
Arizona committed just six turnovers to UTEP’s 22.
“Anytime you go on the road you have to take care of the basketball,” Miners coach Rodney Terry said. “We had some turnovers that cost us times where we had a chance to try to make a game of this situation.”
Williams has yet to commit a turnover in his three collegiate games, which Arizona coach Sean Miller called “astonishing.”
“I’m just trying to take what the defense gives,” Williams said, “whether it’s me scoring or me getting the assist. I’m just happy to not turn the ball over.”
Part of the reason for the team’s lack of turnovers is that Arizona often has four perimeter players on the floor, Miller said.
“We have multiple ball handlers on the court at one time,” he said.
The Wildcats never trailed, scoring the first eight points of the game, and were up 21-11 after Ira Lee’s dunk with 10:32 left in the half.
The Miners followed with a 7-2 spurt to cut it to 23-18 on Kobe Magee’s 3-pointer with 4:13 to play before the break. But Williams responded with a 3-pointer and the lead was 26-18. Paul Thomas scored to UTEP to make it 26-20 but Williams sank another 3 and it was 29-20 3:18 before halftime.
The rest of the half was sloppy, with both teams missing free throws, but Arizona’s 34-23 lead at the break was its largest of the half.
The Wildcats scored three points to UTEP’s one the final 2:39 of the half.
UTEP scored the first five points of the second half, cutting the Arizona advantage to 34-28 when Thomas sank a 3. But the Wildcats responded with seven unanswered points to go up 41-28 on Williams’ 15-footer with 17:43.
A 9-0 run ballooned the lead to 22 points. Capping the spurt, Jeter blocked Evan Gilyard’s shot, resulting in Randolph’s layup that put the Wildcats ahead 57-35 with 9:38 to play. It just got more one-sided from there.
UTEP is in a transition season under first-year coach Terry, who moved to El Paso from Fresno State, with four transfers sitting out this season. So the Miners could be just treading water in Conference USA until next year.
Miller has a host of new players to integrate into his system at Arizona in what is predicted to be a relatively down year from the accustomed nationally ranked status of the Wildcats. Arizona will find out a lot about itself when it faces the extremely difficult competition at next week’s Maui Invitational.
UTEP hosts Eastern New Mexico on Monday night.
Arizona heads to the islands to face Iowa State in the Maui Invitational.