Jordan Brown had 19 points and 15 rebounds, James Akinjo added 19 points and Arizona opened the season with a 74-55 win over Grambling State on Friday.
The new-look Wildcats (1-0) looked a bit like the previous ones to kick off coach Sean Miller’s 12th season, knocking off another small conference school at the McKale Center.
One of college basketball’s most intimidating homecourt venues didn’t have the same buzz thanks to coronavirus precautions. Arizona still played as if more than 14,000 fans were roaring in approval instead of the cardboard cutouts that have become part of the pandemic world.
The Wildcats jumped out to an 11-point lead in the opening minutes and kept the Tigers (0-2) at bay in the second half to win their 12th straight season opener under Miller.
Arizona had 17 assists on 23 field goals and held Grambling State to 3-for-22 shooting from the 3-point arc after having its original opener canceled due to a positive COVID-19 test in Northern Arizona’s program.
Cameron Woodall led the Tigers with 19 points.
Arizona lost more than 85% of its scoring from last season, including NBA draft picks Josh Green, Zeke Nnaji and Nico Mannion.
Miller replaced the roster holes with six international players, three transfers and top-50 recruit Dalen Terry.
Two of the transfers helped the Wildcats jump out to a 39-23 halftime lead.
Akinjo, the Big East freshman of the year at Georgetown two years ago, was sharp running the offense and had 10 points by halftime. Brown, a former McDonald’s All-American who played at Nevada, dominated inside, scoring eight points with nine rebounds.
Arizona was disjointed at times in the second half, particularly when Grambling State went to zone, but kept its cushion in double digits.
Grambling State coach Donte Jackson has steadied what had been one of the nation’s worst programs 0-28 in 2012-13 with three straight winning seasons.
The Tigers lost their two leading scorers from a year ago, Ivy Smith Jr. and Devante Jackson, but returned several key players and added Florida Gulf Coast graduate transfer Brian Thomas.
Grambling State opened a two-game road trip to Arizona with a 69-53 loss to Grand Canyon on Wednesday.
The Tigers struggled against Arizona’s length and athleticism at the start, falling into a 15-4 hole. Grambling State made a run, but struggled to get shots to fall throughout the first half, finishing 8 for 28 from the floor and 2 for 11 from the 3-point arc.
The Tigers found more of a rhythm in the second half to prevent the Wildcats from running away from it, but continued to struggle from the 3-point arc, going 1 for 11.
Grambling State didn’t stand much of a chance against Arizona, even in an empty McKale Center, but played well in the second half. The experience should help the Tigers once the SWAC season starts.
Brown and Akinjo helped Arizona build a big first-half lead and overcome its struggles against the zone in the second to win another opener.
Grambling State plays its home opener against East Texas Baptist on Thursday.
Arizona hosts UTEP on Sunday.
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