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Arizona Wildcats

McConnell, Wildcats avoid upset to UNLV Rebels

Arizona's Nick Johnson (13) shoots for two points between UNLV's Khem Birch (2) and Roscoe Smith (1) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, in Tucson, Ariz. Arizona won 63-58. (AP Photo/John MIller)

TUCSON, Ariz. — T.J. McConnell had 13 points, six assists and seven rebounds, making critical plays down the stretch, and No. 2 Arizona escaped with a 63-58 victory over UNLV on Saturday.

Brandon Ashley also had 13 points, and Nick Johnson and Kaleb Tarczewski added 12 apiece for the Wildcats. However, Johnson shot just 4 for 15.

Bryce DeJean-Jones scored 16 points, Khem Birch had 12 and Roscoe Smith 10 for the Rebels (3-4) in their first road game of the season.

The Wildcats (9-0) have a shot at moving to the top of the rankings after No. 1 Michigan State lost to North Carolina.

But they were challenged all day by UNLV in a game that had 18 lead changes and neither team led by more than six.

McConnell, a transfer point guard from Duquesne, sank a 15-footer with 3:10 to play to put Arizona up for good, 58-57. After Dejean-Jones missed a 3-pointer, McConnell's pretty bounce pass to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for a dunk made it 60-57 with 2:20 to play.

UNLV managed one field goal in the final six minutes, Birch's rebound basket that gave the Rebels their last lead at 57-56 with 3:30 to play.

Birch made one of two free throws with 1:52 to go to cut Arizona's lead to 60-58, but McConnell found Ashley for a basket with 27 seconds to go to make it 62-58. McConnell made one of two free throws with 15.3 seconds to go to wrap up the scoring.

There were 30 turnovers in the game, 16 by UNLV and 14 by Arizona.

The Rebels shot 64 percent in the first half (16 for 25) to Arizona's 52 percent (17 of 33) and led 42-39 at the break.

The scoring dropped drastically in the second half, with Arizona outscoring UNLV 24-16. The Rebels shot 28 percent (7 for 25) in the second half while Arizona was at 32 percent (11 of 34).

There were 19 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, 10 by UNLV and nine by the Wildcats. Every one of the seven Arizona players who played in the first half had at least one turnover.

The Wildcats led 37-31 on T.J. McConnell's reverse layup on a pass from Hollis-Jefferson with 3:35 to play. Arizona was up 39-35 on Hollis-Jefferson's spin move inside with just under two minutes to go, but Roscoe Smith sank a 17-footer, Kevin Olekaibe hit a 3 and Kendall Smith scored on a reverse layup to give UNLV its three-point halftime cushion.

Arizona scored the first six points of the second half to go up 45-42, but the Rebels scored the next six to lead 48-45 on Dejean-Jones' 16-footer with 15:36 to play.

A 5-0 spurt regained the lead for Arizona, Aaron Gordon's emphatic dunk on a pass from Ashley made it 52-49 with 12:05 to go. Again, the Rebels responded, scoring the next six and the back-and-forth battle persisted.

The capacity crowd at McKale Center was decked out in white for the team's annual "white out" promotion. Arizona had lost its previous two white outs, and this one was shaky.

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