PORTLAND, Ore.– Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 23 points, 16 in the first half, along with 10 rebounds and the second-seeded Arizona Wildcats overwhelmed No. 15 seed Texas Southern from the start for a 93-72 victory in their NCAA Tournament opener on Thursday.
Pac-12 freshman of the year Stanley Johnson added 22 points for the balanced Wildcats (32-3), who led by as many as 27 points at Portland’s Moda Center. Arizona goes on to meet the winner of Thursday’s game between seventh-seeded VCU and No. 10 seed Ohio State.
Madarious Gibbs had 15 points for Texas Southern (22-13), which won an automatic bid as the winner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament. Gibbs, also the Tigers’ top scorer during the regular season, was the SWAC Player of the year.
It was the 12th straight win for the Wildcats, who were coming off an 80-52 thrashing of Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game last weekend.
Brandon Ashley added 14 points for Arizona. The junior forward missed Arizona’s run to the Elite Eight in last year’s NCAA Tournament because of a foot injury, but was named the conference tournament’s most outstanding player after averaging 19.6 points and 6.3 rebounds in three games.
Texas Southern was making its second straight appearance in the tournament after a 62-58 victory over Southern for the SWAC Tournament title. Last season the Tigers fell to Cal Poly in their NCAA Tournament opener.
The Wildcats rolled through last year’s tournament with victories over Weber State, Gonzaga and San Diego State before falling to Wisconsin in the round of eight. Gone from that team are Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson.
The teams had never met, but Arizona was wary going into the game because of Texas Sothern’s regular-season upsets at Michigan State and Kansas State. The Wildcats, meanwhile, had dropped games to unranked challengers UNLV, Oregon State and Arizona State.
The Wildcats took a 15-2 lead, subduing the smaller Tigers from the start. Ashley’s dish to Dusan Ristic under the basket for a layup extended the lead to 17-4.
Deverell Biggs’ steal and fast-break layup narrowed the gap slightly to 21-11 for Texas Southern. But Arizona responded to go up 40-20 on Hollis-Jefferson’s dunk with 4:15 left in the half.
Hollis-Jefferson led all players with 16 points and 7 rebounds at the break, and the Wildcats led 54-33. Tonnie Collier had eight points in 7 first-half minutes off the bench for the Tigers. He finished with 10 points.
Arizona stretched the lead to 66-39 on Elliott Pitts’ layup in the second half, but coach Sean Miller was judicious with his starters. The Wildcats outrebounded the Tigers 35-19.