Wildcats hold off upset-minded Belmont - Sports - Explorer

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Wildcats hold off upset-minded Belmont

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It took four games, but Arizona finally has its first win over a Bruins team - of any kind - this season.

In the process, the sixth-seeded Wildcats may have busted a few brackets Thursday.

Behind the hot second-half shooting of Mark Lyons, Arizona held off a surge by trendy upset pick No. 11 Belmont to win 81-64 in the second round of the NCAA tournament at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. The Wildcats will move on to play No. 14 Harvard, which stunned No. 3 New Mexico later in the evening to win its first-ever NCAA tournament game.

Tipoff is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. MDT/3:10 p.m. local Arizona time on Saturday.

Lyons, a transfer from Xavier, was not on last year's Wildcats team that was eliminated in the first round of the NIT. Arizona sophomore Nick Johnson said it is Lyons' confidence that has been the difference this year.

"I said it all year long," Johnson said of his backcourt partner. "It's confidence, that's the biggest thing he brings to this team, brings to me, a young player that has gone through some issues. So I mean, that's my big brother and that's the best thing."

Trailing by 21 with less than eight minutes to play, Belmont (26-7) went on a 10-0 run in a two-minute span capped by J.J. Mann's 3-pointer. But Arizona (26-7) responded with a quick 5-1 burst, then Johnson bumped the lead back up to 17 with 3:14 to play.

Lyons made 6 of 8 shots after halftime - 8 of 15 for the game - and finished with a game-high 23 points for the Wildcats, who shot 67.9 percent in the second half. Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Kevin Parrom added 12 points apiece.

Lyons credited the victory to UA's ability to get the ball inside early.

"That was a big factor going into the game," Lyons said. "Coach made it a big issue for us to get the ball inside. Our size advantage was significant."

After struggling with its shot for most of the first 20 minutes but leading by 12, UA made four of its first six shots to open the second half. Grant Jerrett's dunk off an offensive rebound with 17:07 to play pushed the lead to 41-23.

Belmont guard Ian Clark, the nation's leading 3-point shooter at 46.3 percent, cut the deficit to 14 at the 12:14 mark, but Lyons matched his long-range jumper on the next possession.

Tarczewski then delivered a punctuation mark with a slam after gathering the offensive rebound to extend the lead to 20 with 8:52 remaining. A pair of free throws by Parrom with 7:45 to play put the Wildcats head by 21 - the largest lead of the game.

Point guard Kerron Johnson and Clark combined for 43 points on 14-of-26 shooting, but the rest of the Bruins were just 6 of 25 from the field. Belmont, the nation's 18th-best 3-point shooting team, was limited to 8 of 27 from beyond the arc.

"When you are fighting an uphill battle the whole time, even when you make those runs, one big 3 by them could stop your momentum, which to their credit, they made big shots all game," Kerron Johnson said. "That was part of our game plan. I thought we executed it well down the stretch. We didn't quite do it well enough in the first half to keep us in it."

Arizona held on despite 16 turnovers that led to 22 points. But a 44-18 edge on the boards - including 12-4 on the offensive glass - proved to be too much for the Bruins, who have yet to win an NCAA tournament game in six trips.

"I guess the stat that is overwhelming when you look at it is our rebounding, 44‑18," UA head coach Sean Miller said. "I think that shows the effort level that we played with and whether it was defensive or offensive rebounding taking advantage of our strengths versus Belmont."

Arizona jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead. But after his 3-pointer at the 16:49 mark, Solomon Hill was given his second personal foul on a technical for trash talking.

But unlike the technical on Miller late in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals, however, it did not affect the Wildcats. The Bruins made just one of their first 11 shots - including 0 of 4 from beyond the arc - and finished the half at 25.9 percent.

A corner 3-pointer from Jordin Mayes then pushed the UA advantage to 14-4 with 12:07 remaining in the half.

But Belmont, which was playing its first game since winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship March 9, shook off the rust momentarily on Kerron Johnson's stepback 3-pointer. That ignited a 10-2 run capped by Clark's straightaway 3-pointer with 8:33 left to cut the deficit to two points.

"We tried to pick it back up early in the first half and late in the second half, but to their credit they were making shots and guys were making plays," Clark said.

In a half that featured 20 fouls, the flow then came to an abrupt halt. But a 27-9 rebounding advantage in the half helped UA remain in front.

Slowly - and despite Hill's three first-half fouls - the Wildcats stretched the margin and took a 32-20 lead into the break. Twelve of Belmont's points came off 10 UA turnovers - six via offensive foul calls - but the 20 first-half points was a season low.

(Editor's Note: Tracy McDannald is the senior editor for GOAZCATS.com. Get all your Wildcats' news at www.goazcats.com)

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