The Charleston Southern Buccaneers led No. 12 Arizona for most of the first half, but saw the Wildcats pull away late in an 82-73 loss on Sunday night at the McKale Center.
Sophomore guard Arlon Harper had a game-high 20 points and CSU was within two at 59-57 with just over eight minutes to play before Arizona pulled away down the stretch. The Bucs also outrebounded the Wildcats, despite being much smaller than the preseason favorite in the Pac 12.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh liked what he saw from his team despite a short turnaround and long travel after Friday night's game at Charlotte.
"Our guys did a great job," Radebaugh said following Sunday night's game. "We battled and fought. We can never be pleased with a loss, but we can be pleased with improvement and this was a big improvement from Friday night."
A Mathiang Muo jumper cut the Wildcats' lead to 59-57 with 8:08 to play in the basketball game, but Arizona would put together a 6-0 run to build a 65-57 lead at the 6:27 mark on a Mark Lyons' three-pointer.
The Wildcats were able to keep at least a possession between themselves and the Bucs through the final six minutes to stave off the upset.
CSU held a 34-31 edge on the boards despite the Wildcats size advantage. The Bucs also executed better offensively, and shot 44 percent for the game after shooting less than 30 percent from the floor in the loss to the 49ers.
"I think the work that we put into our rebounding made the difference," Radebaugh said. " Coming into the season, rebounding was a perceived weakness for us because we lost Kelvin (Martin), but we've turned it into a strength. Our guys worked against superior size and went to get the ball below the rim with solid box outs and we just worked for boards."
Harper connected on 3-of-6 three-point attempts and was 5-for-10 from the floor, while Muo added 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
"Growing up you always want to play in a setting like this," Harper said following his 20-point night. "We fought hard. We came out and played like we had something to prove and didn't back down."
As a team, the Bucs were 10-of-28 from three-point range and shot 36 percent from beyond the arc, which kept them close throughout.
"Our attitude offensively was much better," Radebaugh said "We needed an attitude of sharing the ball better, and I think we did that. When we spread the floor and spread out our shooters, we are pretty tough to guard."
CSU started fast making its first four shots of the game to build an 11-3 lead over the Wildcats just three minutes in, forcing Sean Miller to take an early timeout.
Arizona would reel off four straight to cut the Bucs lead in half at 11-7 as Kaleb Tarczewskiscored on a hook shot from in front and Mark Lyons connected on two free throws.
Sophomore Paul Gombwer answered back with four points of his own to extend the lead back out to 15-7. Gombwer knocked down a three from the top of the key as the Bucs matched their largest lead.
Arizona answered back with a 7-0 run, scoring off of a pair of steals to cut the CSU lead to one at 15-14. Gabe York and Kevin Parrom each had a bucket during the run.
Sophomore guard Arlon Harper carried the scoring load for the Bucs early. Harper started 3-of-5 from the floor and had nine early points.
A three-pointer from Jeremy Sexton built CSU's lead to 25-19 with just under seven minutes to play in the half.
The Wildcats would put together another spurt, grabbing their first lead at 26-25 on a jumper by Jordin Mayes. The run would stretch to 10-0 as Arizona took a lead by four at 29-25, but freshman Malcolm Bernard would get the lead back for the Bucs.
Bernard poured in eight points in five minutes of action late in the first half, including a pair of threes, as the Bucs regained the lead, 39-36 in the final minute of the half. A pair of turnovers by CSU fueled a 7-0 flurry by the Wildcats in the final minute of the half as Arizona moved ahead, 43-39 at the break.
The Bucs would hang tough in the opening minutes of the second half, cutting the Arizona lead to 53-52 at the 11-minute mark on a three by Mathiang Muo, the Bucs first of the second half, and a free throw by Nimley.
Muo's jumper at the 8-minute mark to cut the lead to two would be as close as the Bucs would get in the closing minutes.
Lyons and Kevin Parrom combined for 15 points down the stretch as the Wildcats put the game out of reach.
Lyons led Arizona with 17 points, while Solomon Hill added 14 points on 4-of-8 from three-point range.
Saah Nimley added 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds, while Muo and Gombwer each had seven rebounds.
Charleston Southern hosts Hiwasse in its home opener on Thursday night at the Buc Dome. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.