Southern U.-Arizona Preview

The Associated Press

Coach Sean Miller may have accepted a loss in Arizona's last game because of the lessons learned from playing a difficult opponent on the road.

Instead, his Wildcats remain the nation's top-ranked club after escaping with another signature win.

With the start of the Pac-12 slate on the horizon, Arizona hopes to build on that experience as it meets Southern University on Thursday night in the first of consecutive home games against non-conference opponents to close 2013.

As the Wildcats trailed by one with less than a minute remaining, T.J. McConnell ran down his own miss to keep a crucial possession alive before Nick Johnson sank six straight free throws in a 72-70 victory at Michigan on Saturday.

"The first two were the ones that I had to really concentrate about," said Johnson, who made all of his foul shots in the final 25 seconds. "After I made those, I knew that the next two, four, were going in."

Brandon Ashley led the way with 18 points, while Johnson, Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski added 14 apiece for Arizona (11-0), which rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit at Crisler Arena. The Wolverines had been ranked as high as No. 7 last month.

"This was as quality of a win as you can have, in my opinion, in the country," said Miller, whose team has beaten No. 8 Duke and No. 24 San Diego State. "I felt like - we're going to be better if we won, we're going to be better if we lost."

Ashley, averaging 16.0 points this month, is shooting a team-best 59.6 percent from the field and has made seven of his last nine 3-point attempts.

He's helped make up for the inconsistency of Johnson, who averages a team-leading 15.5 points but has totaled 34 over the past three games while shooting 35.5 percent.

Tarczewski suffered a right leg injury in the second half Saturday, though the 7-footer appeared to be fine after staying in to finish with a game-high nine rebounds.

The Wildcats recorded 17 offensive boards while outrebounding Michigan 37-24 overall. With Gordon, Tarczewski and Ashley each averaging more than 6.5 boards, Arizona ranks second in the nation with a plus-14.2 rebounding margin.

Now the Wildcats hope to get back to playing like one of the top defensive clubs in the country. They're among the national leaders in points allowed (59.1 per game) and defensive field-goal percentage (37.5), but allowed season highs in both as the Wolverines shot 50.0 percent.

Arizona appears to have a good chance to tighten things up against a Southern team that has averaged 58.8 points in regulation while losing four straight versus Division I opponents.

The Wildcats, who have won 29 of 31 non-conference home games, face the Jaguars for the first time and host Northern Arizona on Monday before opening Pac-12 play against visiting Washington State on Jan. 2.

Southern (3-7) has beaten only one Division I foe and is coming off a 107-64 victory over NAIA program Dillard on Saturday.

YonDarius Johnson led five players in double figures with 20 points and is averaging a team-best 13.8. Malcolm Miller, the Southwestern Athletic Conference's preseason player of the year, added 16 points after a six-game slump during which he averaged 4.3.

As a No. 16 seed, the Jaguars gave top-seeded Gonzaga a scare in last season's NCAA tournament before falling 64-58. However, in their only game this season against a current Top 25 team, they never threatened Florida in the second half of a 67-53 defeat Nov. 18.

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