Freshmen-led Arizona too much for Clemson

Arizona’s Solomon Hill, who had 13 points, shoots over former Pinewood Prep star Milton Jennings of Clemson during the second half of the Wildcats’ 63-47 win Saturday.

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Solomon Hill is starting to take over the role Derrick Williams had last season. Kyle Fogg is developing into one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. The freshmen, at least the three that are left, are really starting to understand how to play on the college level.

After a 10-game opening gauntlet of games, Arizona is developing into the team coach Sean Miller had envisioned at the start of the season.

Nick Johnson had 14 points in another solid game, Solomon Hill had two big baskets among his 13 points and Arizona rode a big first-half cushion to a 63-47 victory over Clemson on Saturday.

"We are 7-3 and have not played an easy schedule; we have played a lot of games in a short period of time and simultaneously we've gone through a lot both on and off the court," Miller said. "Our best basketball is yet to come."

Arizona was left with a big hole when Williams left for the NBA after his sophomore season. The Wildcats were young, inexperienced and, as Miller put it, not worthy of their No. 16 preseason ranking.

They might be now.

Coming off a hard-fought road loss to No. 12 Florida, Arizona (7-3) jumped on the Tigers early, building a 13-point lead by halftime and let up only a little, shooting 51 percent against one of the ACC's best defensive teams. The Wildcats played a little defense of their own, holding Clemson to 16 first-half points.

Johnson, after filling in at point guard against the Gators, made the smooth transition back to shooting guard, hitting 7 of 9 shots.

Hill showed off his go-to-guy credentials, hitting two baskets out of a timeout after Clemson rallied in the second half, and finished with seven rebounds and six assists.

Fogg was a one-man swarm against the Tigers on the perimeter, a big part of their poor shooting from the arc.

Clemson (4-4) got off to a miserable start offensively and never fully recovered, missing all nine of its 3-point shots in the first half while shooting 31 percent overall.

The Tigers made a run, pulling within seven in the closing minutes, but had nothing left to finish it off.

"We just kept chipping away and chipping away and made a good run," said Andre Young, who led the Tigers with 17 points. "In the end, I think it just knocked the wind out of us."

The Wildcats were coming off a rough week.

Forward Sidiki Johnson, part of Miller's stellar recruiting class, left the program. Turner was suspended against Florida for violating team rules. And, after playing well for most of a road game against a tough opponent, Arizona wore down against the bigger Gators, losing a seven-point lead with six minutes left and eventually the game 78-72 in overtime.

The Wildcats didn't have to worry about Clemson's size and got off to a solid start behind its defense, building a 10-lead midway through the first half.

Arizona's problem against the defensive-minded Tigers was holding onto the ball. Dribbling into traffic and throwing passes practically right to Clemson's defenders, the Wildcats had nine mostly-sloppy turnovers to allow the Tigers to chip away.

Even with the turnovers, Arizona was too much for Clemson, building a 29-16 lead by halftime.

Nick Johnson was a big reason.

The athletic freshman has made steady progress in his first season in the desert, providing a steadying influence at the point despite his young age.

Johnson kept his roll going against Clemson, soaring in for a one-handed dunk over 7-foot-2 Clemson center Catalin Baciu in the first half and scoring again on a high alley-oop. He opened the second half by swatting Milton Jennings and set up Hill for a dunk with a drop pass, helping the Wildcats push the lead to 18 in the first 4 1/2 minutes.

The Wildcats let off the gas for a while, allowing Clemson to get within nine with just over four minutes left. They quickly put it away, though, with Johnson following Hill's two baskets inside with a soaring fast-break dunk by Johnson on a nifty drop pass from Turner and scored on another layup to push the lead back to 15.

Johnson, who moved into the starting lineup against Florida, is averaging 10.1 points while hitting 40 percent of his 3-point shots.

"I wouldn't trade Nick for any freshman in the country," Miller said.

Clemson's previous three losses had been by a combined seven points and the Tigers blew out Iowa in their last road game, a solid start for a team that lost 40 percent of its scoring and has six first-year players.

Playing at Arizona's McKale Center, with all those rowdy fans and banners hanging from the rafters, turned out to be a little more than the young Tigers could handle.

Taking tough shots against Arizona's swarming defense and badly missing the few open looks they had, Clemson missed nine of its first 10 shots to quickly fall into a 10-point hole. The Tigers only hit a few more shots in the first half after that, going 8 for 35 from the field and missing all 10 of its 3-pointers.

Clemson fell into a deeper hole to start the first half, then started dropping shots, chipping away at the lead until it was down to 49-42 on T.J. Sapp's layup with 4:23 left.

The Tigers just didn't have enough to keep it going, allowing Arizona to go on an 8-0 run and a decisive victory.

"I think we just ran out of gas at the end," said Clemson's K.J. McDaniels, who had seven points. "Everyone played their hearts out and a loss like this shows how mentally prepared you have to be."