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Arizona named NIT preseason champs

Stephon Johnson | 12/5/2013, 3:03 p.m.
A happy Sean Miller, coach of the Arizona Wildcats, happily displays to the Madison Square Garden crowd the beautiful award as NIT champ Cam Newton looks on Bill Moore NIT Tournament photos

“I need to get experience against good guys,” said Duke’s star forward Jabari Parker after the Blue Devils lost to Arizona 66-72 at the NIT Season Tip-Off final. Up until Thanksgiving weekend, the freshman phenom had lived a charmed basketball life during the season’s infancy. Parker faced an Arizona front line that went 6 feet 9 inches, 6 feet 8 inches and 7 feet.

Parker shot seven of 21 from the field and scored 19 points (the first time he scored less than 20 points in a game this season). Parker also contributed to five of the team’s 11 turnovers, including a couple in the final minutes that turned the tide of a Wildcats team on the surge. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski noted that while Arizona’s special attention on Parker played a role in the loss, an overall team deficiency had a hand in it as well.

Part of the futility of Parker, and the Duke team in general, around the basketball had to do with Wildcats forward Aaron Gordon. While he struggled in the first half, Gordon managed to finish the game with 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists while ceding the scoring to his teammates Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski in the second half. While the aforementioned handled most of the last-minute scoring, Arizona headcoach Sean Miller acknowledged that Gordon’s basketball I.Q. helped him recover from a rough start.

After beating Drexel in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals and then Duke in the finals, Arizona moved up to No. 2 on both major top 25 polls this Sunday. Wildcats guard Nick Johnson was named Most Valuable Player of the NIT, and a few days later, he was named Pac-12 Player of the Week.

In the consolation game, Drexel beat Alabama 85-83 in triple overtime.