TUCSON--Nic Wise scored nine points off the bench during an otherwise second-half scoring lull by Arizona to help the Cats overcome a tenacious effort by Concordia University and win its exhibition opener, 68-50 Sunday afternoon in McKale Center.
The Cats started fast and then sputtered some offensively later in the first game led by assistant Kevin O'Neill, who took over earlier in the day when it was announced Arizona head coach Lute Olson would take a leave of absence for personal reasons.
"We played okay," interim head coach Kevin Oˇ?Neill said, "but Iˇ?m most pleased with our play in the first half."
Oˇ?Neill had good reason to be pleased, as his squad shot 50 percent (15-of-30) from the field, while the UA defense limited Concordia to just a 27.3 percent (6-of-22) from the floor in the gameˇ?s opening 20 minutes.
Defense by the Cats was reasonably solid throughout, holding the Stingers to 35 percent from the field. UA took care of the ball well, too, with only seven turnovers. The Cats had five steals and five blocked shots.
UA was led by Chase Budinger with 17 points, Jawann McClellan with 13 and Jordan Hill with 12.
Concordia was led by wingman Dwayne Buckley with 22 and center Jamal Gallier with 13. They led the way with game-high rebound totals of nine and eight, respectively, and helped the shorter Stingers stay close on the board, trailing UA by only three, 36-33.
Wise hit a pair of free throws near the nine-minute mark and added two jumpers and a three-pointer in the four-minute spell, and then UA rose Chase Budinger
Some hot shooting by Buckley and strong inside play by 280-pound Gallier helped the Stingers stage a mini-comeback and stay close with solid second-half play.
Buckley's three three-pointers accented a CU 13-4 run in a two-minute span in the second half to trim Arizona's big halftime lead to just eight points with 9:20 remaining in the game, while Arizona got cold at the other end.
In the first half Arizona had 16 points off Concordia turnovers, 18 points in the paint and six second-chance points to take a commanding 18-point lead.
A pair of steals ignited UA early to snap a 2-2 tie after three minutes of play. Hill swiped an entry pass and Jerryd Bayless fed Budinger for a breakaway slam dunk to give UA its first lead, 4-2. Then Budinger got a steal and fed Hill for another fastbreak jam to make it 6-2.
After an answering basket by Gallier of Concordia, another Stingers' turnover led way to another break for UA and McClellan had a layup for an 8-4 lead. Hill canned a jumper to make it 10-4 at the 15:28 mark.
A few minutes later, Hill's third dunk of the game made it 16-7 Arizona, and the Cats stretched it to 24-9 at the 8:46 mark. Over the next couple of minutes Concordia cut it to 24-13 before Hill flushed another dunk to keep it a double-digit lead and McClellan's three-pointer stretched it to 29-13 at a Concordia timeout inside three minutes to play in the half.
Some sloppy play by both squads closed out the final minutes of the half, but Johnny Andre hit a jumper for Concordia, Budinger snuck in a bank shot and Bayless made two free throws to make it a 33-15 Arizona lead.
"Jerryd is an outstanding player, and he will continue to be outstanding for years to come," Oˇ?Neill said, "but it is important to remember that he is a freshman."
Bayless finished with eight points, but more impressively, he dished out eight assists to just one turnover. His classmate Jamelle Horne shined in the second half, as he swatted four Concordia shots and registered a steal, as the frosh from San Diego, Calif., played 17 of the final 20 minutes.
"I was not surprised that Jamelle did well today," said Oˇ?Neill. "I am surprised he did well this quickly."
UA concludes its exhibition slate on Thursday, Nov. 8, with a 7 p.m. MST date with Team Georgia. The game will not be televised, but fans can call (520) 621-CATS or log on to www.arizonaathletics.com for tickets.