TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona bumped DeWayne Russell, followed him wherever he went, made it difficult for the nation’s second-leading scorer all night long.
Russell still managed to score 19 points, but the 19th-ranked Wildcats earned the victory.
Arizona overcame a rash of turnovers and a disjointed-at-times offense with a hounding defense, making Russell work for everything he got in a 64-54 win over Grand Canyon on Wednesday night.
“It was just knowing what he wants to do, where he wants to go and eliminating that,” Arizona’s Kobi Simmons said of stopping Russell.
Russell entered the game scoring 25.4 points per game and had 42 against No. 11 Louisville , one of the nation’s best defensive teams.
The slightly built senior guard is the focal point of every team’s defense and it was no different against Arizona.
The Wildcats (9-2) used a physical tactic against Russell, chasing and bumping him all over McKale Center while holding him to 8-of-21 shooting and 1 of 7 from 3-point range.
“DeWayne’s unbelievable,” Grand Canyon coach Dan Majerle said. “To be keyed on, especially with the team we have, they know he’s going to be the guy getting all the shots and he finds a way to get some shots up.”
Arizona needed that kind of effort on a night filled with turnovers and shots that wouldn’t fall.
The Wildcats built a 16-point lead in the first half, but allowed the short-handed Antelopes to claw most of the way back due to a rash of turnovers.
Arizona had 19 turnovers overall and struggled shooting in the second half before wearing down Grand Canyon for its 39th straight non-conference home win.
Simmons scored 13 points, and Rawle Alkins added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats.
“I thought it was a great challenge for our players, especially our freshmen,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “We’re going to run into some of this moving forward and some of the teams that play with their style, are that physical and that tough-minded are also going to be much bigger.”
Grand Canyon (5-5), which is in the final year of its transition to Division I, kept Louisville within reach until late last week and did the same against Arizona.
Russell almost singlehandedly kept the Antelopes in the Louisville game, but had help against Arizona in one of college basketball’s toughest road arenas.
Russell had 11 points in the first half, helping Grand Canyon trim a 16-point deficit to 32-25 by halftime.
Arizona had 12 turnovers in the first half and struggled to make shots early in the second, allowing the Antelopes to trim the lead to 44-40. Arizona tried to pull away after that, but Oscar Frayer stayed aggressive as the Wildcats keyed on Russell, scoring all of his 16 points in the second half to keep the game from being a blowout.
“We played really hard tonight,” Russell said. “That’s one thing we can definitely hang our hats on: We play hard.”
Grand Canyon played well against a Top 25 team for the second time in a week and should be set up well for when the WAC season starts.
Arizona was not nearly as crisp as it was in a blowout win over Missouri the last time out, playing disjointedly on offense at times but well on defense.
Arizona’s size advantage led to a big disparity in free throws. The Wildcats went to the line 27 times and made 20, while the Antelopes took just 12, hitting six.
Majerle has been aggressive about scheduling top-quality opponents for the Antelopes, hoping to prepare them for the jump to Division I next season while giving the program exposure.
Grand Canyon opened this season at top-ranked Duke, hosted Louisville earlier this season, and previously had games against Kentucky and Indiana.
“This should only help us,” Majerle said.
Grand Canyon hosts Mississippi State on Saturday to kick off a four-game home stand.
Arizona plays at Texas A&M on Saturday, its final road game before the Pac-12 season starts.
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