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Sean Miller frets about turnovers as the Arizona Wildcats move to 10-0

Sean Miller reacts to a play during the first half of the game against East Tennessee State. Photo by Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats easily won their opening game at the Diamond Head Classic, but it didn’t take coach Sean Miller long to note his teaching moment.

UA took control with an 11-0 start and went on to dismiss East Tennessee State 73-53 in Honolulu without a drop of drama Saturday night. The Cats improved to 10-0 for the first time since the 1987-88 season.

It took Miller all of about 10 seconds in his postgame radio interview on 1290-AM (KCUB) to start harping on turnovers. Arizona had 18 of them, nine from the point guard position.

“It’s hard for me to believe we’re 10-0 with the way we take care of the ball,” Miller said.

Senior point guard Mark Lyons had four turnovers and picked up his fourth foul with about 16 minutes to go. Junior backup Jordin Mayes committed five turnovers.

Perhaps the Wildcats’ focus turned to surf and sand in the second half, when they turned over the ball 12 times. Miller couldn’t find any excuse that would fly.

“That’s unacceptable. It really is,” Miller said.

“It’s simple things: Passing, catching, looking at the person that you’re throwing to, not standing in three seconds. Our point guard position … when your team has nine turnovers from that spot, it makes for a tough game.”

On most nights that would be true, but the Wildcats just had too much talent for ETSU. Freshman post Brandon Ashley had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Nick Johnson had the highlight of the night — a 360-degree dunk on a breakaway. Kaleb Tarczewski had eight points and seven boards in 18 minutes.

Nick Johnson

Nick Johnson soars on his way to his 360-degree dunk. Photo by Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona led 38-17 at the half and extended that to 42-19 before the Buccaneers went on a 9-0 run as the Cats went scoreless for about five minutes. UA recovered to lead by as many as 27 points.

“We took our foot off the gas … and then all of a sudden the turnovers really hit us,” Miller said.

“There were times when we didn’t shoot the ball well, and that happens. We missed some open ones and we also took some shots that were too far from the (3-point) line. That’s almost like a turnover.”

Yeah … Miller couldn’t stop thinking about turnovers.

Some of it can be written off as sloppy play in an undemanding victory, but the turnover trouble also has been a trend through 10 games.

The Cats have committed at least 17 turnovers in four contests. The good news is they had only 10 in the big game against Florida, but Miller wants to see the elimination of the unforced errors occur more frequently.

Lyons is transitioning to a full-time point-guard role after usually playing off the ball at Xavier. Mayes isn’t noted as an elite ball-handler or passer. Combined, they barely have more assists (47) than turnovers (44).

Lyons will be judged on more than his assist-to-turnover ratio. His toughness, moxie and fearlessness — see the game-winning drive against Florida — are part of what make the Wildcats a well-rounded team.

Well-rounded, except for the rising numbers in the turnover column. Arizona averages 15 giveaways per game.

“We’re going to have to do a much better job taking care of the ball,” Miller said.

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