Southern men fall at top-ranked Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz. — Southern gave Marquette and Florida a bit of trouble in road games earlier this season.

But once the Jaguars got behind No. 1 Arizona, they didn’t stand much of a chance.

Southern tried to fight back from a big early hole but struggled from the 3-point line and at the free throw line in a 69-43 loss to the Wildcats on Thursday night.

“My team is trying to find an identity, and we have a long way to go,” Southern coach Roman Banks said. “My concern is that we didn’t show character; we floated all night long. Arizona is a great basketball team, but I thought we played on our toes.”

Coming off a comeback road win over Michigan on Saturday, Arizona (12-0) raced to a 15-point first-half lead over the Jaguars despite having to shift players to new positions with 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski out. The second half wasn’t quite as smooth and the Wildcats went 22 of 37 on free throws but turned it over just eight times and played well at the defensive end to start 12-0 in nonconference action for the second straight season.

Aaron Gordon scored 21 points and Nick Johnson had 16 for Arizona, which outscored Southern 34-12 in the paint despite Tarczewski’s absence. Brandon Ashley finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Southern (3-8) had a miserable first half and tried to claw its way back early in the second. The Jaguars never were able to dig out of that big hole, going 5 for 21 from 3-point range and 4 of 15 on free throws.

Malcolm Miller and Calvin Godfrey had 11 points each for Southern.

“We won’t play anybody like Arizona (again),” Miller said. “This game is going to help us be more confident against our future opponents.”

Southern didn’t figure to pose much of a threat to the long, athletic Wildcats. The Jaguars nearly pulled off a monumental upset in the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament, leading No. 1 Gonzaga late before losing.

Southern is a much different team this year after losing four seniors and with Godfrey ailing with an elbow injury.

It went about as expected early. Even without Tarczewski, who sprained his ankle against Michigan on Saturday, Arizona dominated from the start, building a 12-point by the midpoint of the first half.

The Wildcats kept rolling behind the wheeling and dealing of T.J. McConnell (five assists) and inside game of Gordon, who had eight of his 10 first-half points on layups or dunks.

Southern tried to work inside-out without much luck; Arizona had an 18-2 advantage in the paint in the first half.

“They did what they were best at and accomplished a lot in the first half,” Godfrey said.