December 01, 2014

Arizona used plenty of variety to win three games at the Maui Invitational, and the last two came down to the wire.

It might not matter which methods the third-ranked Wildcats feature Tuesday night against visiting Gardner-Webb, which has never been able to keep pace with a top five opponent.

Coach Sean Miller is still proceeding with caution in a tune-up for Saturday's clash with No. 9 Gonzaga as Arizona looks to extend a 24-game home winning streak - its longest since winning 37 straight from 1996-99.

"When we get back, we'll have two games. We play Gonzaga next Saturday. So if we're not working to become better, we'll find out right away what happens when we play that game," Miller said.

"We also play Gardner-Webb, (which) beat Clemson earlier. There is so much parity in college basketball. If we rest on our laurels and not improve the things we need, we won't continue to have the success we had in this tournament."

Arizona (6-0) secured the tournament title with Wednesday's 61-59 victory over then-No. 15 San Diego State despite shooting 36.5 percent. Last Tuesday's 72-68 win over Kansas State featured a 53.3 percent shooting night, which was preceded by a 72-53 blowout of Missouri with the Wildcats boasting a plus-11 turnover margin.

"We leave here feeling very good about what we accomplished," Miller said. "We have a long way to go, but I feel like our team took the next step, grew up, improved, and that's what happens when you challenge yourself against this type of competition."

Stanley Johnson had 18 points and nine rebounds in the title game on his way to tournament MVP honors. The freshman was also named Pac-12 Player of the Week despite shooting 31.8 percent in the last two games, and he recognizes there's plenty of room for improvement.

"I don't think I've fully adjusted yet, to be honest," said Johnson, who is averaging 13.5 points. "There is still a lot of stuff that we do as a team that I'm not physically good at yet. ... I still have a long way to go as a player on the team."

Fellow forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been the team's leading scorer at 13.8 in a reserve role, but the sophomore also struggled from the floor against San Diego State with a 5-for-13 performance for 14 points.

Gardner-Webb (3-3) opened the Paradise Jam in impressive fashion with a 72-70 win over Clemson on Nov. 21, but went on to lose its last two to Seton Hall and Old Dominion and shot 34.6 percent in the tournament.

The Runnin' Bulldogs bounced back with Saturday's 78-63 win over Division II Brevard behind a career-high 32 points from Jerome Hill. The junior was 13 of 18 after shooting 31.1 percent in the previous four games.

The 6-foot-5 forward is certainly in for a tougher assignment against an Arizona frontline featuring Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, whose average height is nearly 6-9.

"We take pride in our defense, and we all know that defense comes first," Hollis-Jefferson said.

The Runnin' Bulldogs' previous three matchups with top five foes have resulted in losses by an average of 47.7 points. They've dropped their last eight against ranked opponents since an 84-68 win at No. 20 Kentucky on Nov. 7, 2007.

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