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Monday, June 17
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Indomitable Arizona offense downs No. 14 Indiana men’s basketball 89-75 in Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS — It was a battle of strength vs. strength between No. 10 University of Arizona’s fast-paced offense, and No. 14 Indiana’s stout defense at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. 

Arizona entered the game with the second-best offensive efficiency in the country. Indiana had only allowed one team to score over 70 points. The clash came down to which team limited the other’s strong suit.  

On Saturday, the Wildcats landed haymakers any time the Hoosiers dragged the game close, proving to be the difference in Indiana’s 89-75 loss. 

“They beat us in our own game,” senior forward Race Thompson said. “We pride ourselves on playing defense, and we let up too many points tonight. That was a spark for them.” 

The Hoosiers spent much of the game on their heels — after taking a 5-4 lead, the Wildcats never trailed again, and a 17-0 run just over two minutes later put Indiana in a deep hole the rest of the night. The Wildcats pushed the tempo on fast breaks, and in transition, finding gaps where Indiana couldn’t cover and draining shots. 

Arizona’s size, especially, proved to be too much for Indiana to overcome. Junior center Oumar Ballo and junior forward Azuolas Tubelis combined for 36 points and Arizona outscored Indiana 42-22 in the paint. 

“Their bigs are dominant bigs,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “They’re good. There’s a reason why they’re averaging 19 and 20 points a game between the two of them. We had to battle that, and I thought they got the better of our bigs tonight.” 

Indiana’s starting forward duo, Thompson and senior Trayce Jackson-Davis, combined for 25 points, but 12 of Thompson’s points came from beyond the arc. Thompson made four shots from deep despite coming into the game shooting 3-for-18 from range this season. 

“I wasn’t as confident, and (my coaches and teammates) preached to me that they believe in me,” Thompson said. “After I missed the first one, they said shoot it again.” 

Freshman forward Malik Reneau in particular couldn't handle Arizona’s defense early. Reneau turned the ball over twice in just three first-half minutes, forcing Woodson to pull his overwhelmed rookie from the game. 

As a result, Jackson-Davis, Thompson and junior forward Jordan Geronimo needed to fill in most of Indiana’s minutes in the post in the first half. Against Arizona, who played three players over 6-foot-11-inches tall, including two 7-footers, Indiana missed the length and size he could provide. Reneau and Jackson-Davis are both 6-foot-9-inches. 

Reneau played better in the second half, contributing 10 turnover-free minutes and four points. His minutes were more important with the absence of Geronimo, who didn’t appear in the second half. Woodson said his benching was a coach’s decision. 

Reneau’s struggle with turnovers was part of a bigger trend that killed Indiana early. Arizona scored 16 points off turnovers in the first half alone, drastically outpacing Indiana’s numbers. With a collapsing defense, Arizona forced small mistakes which were pushed through its transition offense for points. 

During Arizona’s 17-0 run, the turnover issue came to a head in part due to senior guard Xavier Johnson’s absence. Indiana turned the ball over five times while he was on the bench with two fouls early in the first half. 

Johnson finished with a double-double of 11 points and 11 assists and only had two turnovers but took blame for the run amid his absence. 

“I can’t put my team in a hole like that,” Johnson said. “Being one of the leaders on the team, being one of the lead guards, I got to do better.” 

Indiana stopped the bleeding in the second half, only turning the ball over twice for two Arizona points. 

“The ball started to move, we started running a little more pick and roll to try to open the floor up a little bit,” Woodson said. “We would try and post it early to get back. But their bigs are unique.” 

After allowing just 61 points on average through the first nine games of the season, Saturday was the first time a team beat their strong suit. While Woodson said it wouldn’t inspire any changes, he added missing shots early contributed to Indiana’s problems. 

But for a team built around its defense, it was that side of the ball that failed the Hoosiers. Arizona’s offense provided the perfect storm of potency to down Indiana. 

“They’re a really good team on the offensive end,” Johnson said. “They fast break, their bigs post hard. They have soft touch around the rim, and they’re just all around a good team.” 

Follow reporters Evan Gerike (@EvanGerike) and Emma Pawlitz (@emmapawlitz) and columnist Bradley Hohulin (@BradleyHohulin) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season.
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