Without Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson, Arizona struggled to put away an inferior opponent in its season opener.
The 17th-ranked Wildcats likely need a more complete effort Saturday if they are to avoid being upset by Virginia for a second straight year.
Arizona opened with a 76-69 win over Northern Arizona on Tuesday despite lacking an inside presence and toughness.
The Wildcats were outscored 30-22 in the paint and outrebounded 39-31 by the Big Sky Conference school. Arizona shot just 38.3 percent from the field, and led the Lumberjacks by only three points with less than a minute to play.
“We hear all this talk about how we are a soft team, but I know that isn’t the case,” said Wildcats senior Jawann McClellan, who scored 15 points. “We go at it in practice; we just need to play tough in the game.”
Arizona was bailed out by its free-throw shooting as McClellan and Chase Budinger, who scored a team-high 25 points, combined to hit all 17 of their foul shots.
The Wildcats were without the 73-year-old Olson, who has been on a personal leave of absence since Nov. 4. Assistant Kevin O’Neill filled in as Olson missed just his eighth game in 25 years as Arizona’s coach, but McClellan refused to use his absence as a reason for the team’s passive start.
“It is hard not having coach (Olson) on the bench, but we have been preparing normally without him,” McClellan said. “Coach can’t teach toughness. He can’t give you toughness and give you heart. We have to go out there and do that ourselves. I don’t care who is coaching the team. We need to play that way.”
Arizona, looking to open with back-to-back wins for the first time since 2004-05, now tries to avenge a 93-90 loss at Virginia in last season’s opener. The Wildcats were ranked 10th at the time, building a 19-point lead in the first half before getting outscored 57-41 after the break.
Budinger, last season’s Pac-10 freshman of the year, had 17 points against the Cavaliers (2-0) in his first collegiate game.
This marks the fourth straight season these schools have met, and Arizona hopes to take advantage of playing at the McKale Center, as the home team has won each of the last three meetings. The Wildcats beat the Cavaliers 81-51 in Tucson on Nov. 27, 2005.
“It’s definitely going to be a big game,” Virginia guard Jeff Jones said. “We beat them here last year, so they’ll take it personally. It’s our first road trip so it’s going to test us and tell us where we’re at right now. We’ve got to be mentally tough and just play hard every single second.”
Cavaliers senior guard Sean Singletary had 25 points against Arizona last year, and finished with 23 points and eight assists in Wednesday’s 92-53 victory over Howard.
Thirteen players scored for Virginia, which outrebounded the Bison 48-23.
“All around you put this one in the bank as a learning experience as you should and get ready to get on the road and play an important game on Saturday,” Virginia coach Dave Leitao said.
Junior forward Mamadi Diane had 14 points and hit four of Virginia’s 12 3-pointers. Diane had 25 points of 8-of-9 shooting, including 5-of-6 from 3-point range, against the Wildcats last season.
Virginia was 4-1 against ranked teams in 2006-07, and went on to reach the second round of the NCAA tournament.