Arizona's Kaleb Tarczewski, left, and New Mexico States' Renaldo Dixon, right, battle for control of the ball in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/John MIller)
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 11:14 pm
Top-ranked Wildcats beat Aggies 74-48
By JOHN MARSHALLAP Basketball Writer
Arizona (10-0) labored out of the gate in its first game as the nation's top-ranked team before pulling away from the Aggies for another impressive all-around victory.
The Wildcats shot 52 percent, dominated the glass (38-22) and held their fifth opponent under 60 points to open 10-0 for the second straight season.
T.J. McConnell had nine points and six assists while orchestrating Arizona's offense, and do-it-all freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson provided a big lift with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Daniel Mullings had 18 points to lead New Mexico State (7-5), which made 2 of 11 from 3-point range and shot 33 percent to lose its fourth straight.
Arizona reeled off an impressive list of victories during its opening nine-game winning streak, including at San Diego State, Duke at Madison Square Garden to win the NIT Season Tip-off and a grind-it-out win over UNLV last week.
With former No. 1 Michigan State's loss to North Carolina last week, the Wildcats moved atop The Associated Press poll for the first time since 2003 and became the Pac-12's first top-ranked team since UCLA in 2006.
They didn't get much time to celebrate with two difficult opponents this week, including Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
Before Arizona hits the road, though, it had to deal with the Aggies and Sim Bhullar, their paint-filling 7-foot-5 center.
Bhullar wasn't much of a factor, but the Wildcats got off to a ragged start, turning it over three times in the first 4 minutes while missing seven of their first nine shots.
Arizona shifted into gear behind its defense, forcing the Aggies to go deep into the shot clock on nearly every possession and force up difficult shots during a 13-3 run.
Ashley keyed the Wildcats' offense early - 10 points in 10 minutes - and Hollis-Jefferson provided an energy boost after that.
The freshman hit a pull-up jumper, tracked down a rebound and throwing a ball off a New Mexico State player to keep a possession alive, then found Aaron Gordon for a reverse layup.
Hollis-Jefferson followed with one of the most spectacular dunks so far this season, throwing down a left-handed tomahawk over Renaldo Dixon that drew a huge "Ohh!" from the McKale Center crowd and earned him a three-point play.
New Mexico State tried to keep it close, but was hurt by rebounding again.
Opponents averaged 16 offensive rebounds against the Aggies the previous three games and Arizona had nine by halftime, leading to 10 points and a 32-24 lead.
The Wildcats extended the lead after halftime by dominating both ends.
McConnell hit a 3-pointer and pull-up jumper, Nick Johnson hit another jumper, then Ashley hit a 3 and found Tarczewski for a dunk that made it 46-31.
Arizona made 17 of 29 shots in the second half while holding the Aggies to 5-of-21 shooting.
Johnson punctuated the runaway with about 5 minutes left, throwing down a two-handed, 360 dunk on a breakaway to put Arizona up 67-45.