TUCSON, Ariz. (AP)—Arizona guard Jawann McClellan was the Wildcats’ sixth man in practice last week.
McClellan said coach Lute Olson was trying to send him a message. He wanted McClellan, a junior guard, to work harder on rebounding.
“I took the challenge,” said McClellan, who scored a career-high 22 points to help lead No. 15 Arizona to a 102-87 victory over New Mexico State on Sunday.
McClellan hit 7 of 7 3-pointers, but missed the only two shots he attempted from inside the arc. McClellan said he was proudest of his seven rebounds and two blocked shots, which showed that he wasn’t waiting on the perimeter for a teammate to feed him.
“(Scoring) was not the key to my game,” he said. “The offensive and defensive rebounds were. I’m not worried about points.”
It was another impressive offensive outburst for Arizona (2-1), which has scored more than 100 points each of the last two games after a season-opening loss at Virginia. The Wildcats defeated Northern Arizona 101-79 Wednesday night.
Ivan Radenovic scored 25 points and had 12 rebounds for Arizona, which shot 57.1 percent from both the floor and from three-point range. Marcus Williams scored 20 points and Chase Budinger added 19.
But no one was hotter than McClellan, who missed most of last season due to academic ineligibility and a wrist injury. He came out firing against the Aggies, knocking down three 3-pointers to spark a 25-0 run that gave Arizona a 32-8 lead midway through the first half.
“That happens a lot,” New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus said. “They do this to a lot of teams. I told our guys it is difficult to simulate how fast they are and how quick they jump on teams. By the time you look up, you are down 16, 20 points.”
The Aggies went nearly eight minutes without a point, missing eight straight shots. But they responded with a 21-8 run to pull within 47-33 at halftime.
Arizona led by as many as 21 in the second half. Once again New Mexico State rallied, closing to within 87-82 on a 3-pointer by Ted Knauber with 4 minutes to go. Arizona scored the next five points to pull away.
The Aggies’ rallies came against the Wildcats’ first string. Olson gave his bench players a total of 13 minutes.
“Coach told us they how they like to play, and that they like to get up and then let their opponent back in,” said Fred Peete, who led New Mexico State with 18 points. “Once they got up, we just had to battle back and gather ourselves.”
Martin Iti added 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting for the Aggies (1-2), who had six players in double figures.
One of the day’s louder ovations came following the introduction of Arizona football coach Mike Stoops, whose team has won three straight games and could be bowl-bound for the first time since 1998.
But make no mistake: Arizona is a basketball school. And these Wildcats are shouldering a heavy burden, with several players having vowed to end the school’s five-year Final Four drought.
Going into the season, Olson said he was more concerned with his team’s defense than its offense. Those concerns were realized when the Wildcats couldn’t put the Aggies away.
New Mexico State shot 48.6 percent from the floor and 48.1 percent from 3-point range, and at times Arizona seemed content to trade baskets.
“We’ve just got to stop people and put them away,” Radenovic said. “This team, offensively, has confidence. When it comes to defense, we still have big holes. But we’re working on it every day.”