Arizona may be young, but the Wildcats still know how to win big games in November.
With two freshmen in the starting lineup and three others playing extensive minutes, the No. 18 Wildcats opened the season Friday with a 73-72 victory over No. 9 Tennessee at the BCA Classic.
Guard Jason Terry, who along with center A.J. Bramlett are the only starters back from last year's team that was 30-5, scored 26 points and Bramlett and freshman Justin Wessel blocked two shots in the final 10 seconds.
Over the last decade, coach Lute Olson's teams have consistently played well early. They've won the preseason NIT twice, beaten North Carolina in the Tip-Off Classic and Utah in the Wooden Classic.
Against Tennessee, the wildcats hit clutch shots in the final minutes, then came up with the two biggest defensive stops of the night.
"It's a great win," Bramlett said. "We have so many young guys and pulling out a victory like this ... that's a great sign of things to come."
Two free throws by Eugene Edgerson gave Arizona a 73-70 lead with 2:04 remaining. Tennessee guard Tony Harris, who hit seven 3s and finished with a career-high 25 points, hit a 10-foot jumper off an offensive rebound with 1:43 left for the Vols' final points.
Defense got the Vols another possession when Harris forced Terry into a five-second violation with 1:00 left.
Arizona's man-to-man defense, which held the Vols to 32 percent second-half shooting, then took over. Harris penetrated inside and tried a reverse layup with 10 secods left that was swatted out of bounds by the 6-10 Bramlett.
Tennessee got the ball back and Wildcats freshman Justin Wessel got a hand on a dunk attempt by Vols forward Isiah Victor. The loose ball was picked up by guard Brandon Wharton, but his 12-footer hit the front of the rim as time ran out.
"It was a flurry," Tennessee coach Jerry Green said of the final 10 seconds. "They're in there fighting a battle and we're in their fighting a battle. It just didn't go down for us."
Terry scored 10 points in the first 7½ minutes of the second half, when the Wildcats went on a 17-5 run for a 59-46 lead.
Tennessee, which led most of the first half on Harris' five 3-pointers, hit just two of 13 shots in the same span.
"That was the turning point," said Harris, who carried the Vols' offense in the first 21 minutes of the game by going 6-for-6 on 3s.
"They came out in the second half and put it on us," Harris said. "We were lackadaisical and they took advantage. A team like Arizona knows how to win."
The Vols got consecutive 3-pointers from reserve guard Del Baker to key a 15-2 run. Harris' final 3-pointer of the night gave Tennessee a 66-63 lead and the lead changed hands two more times before a layup by Wessel put the Wildcats up for good at 71-70 with 2:57 left.
Tennessee, unable to penetrate Arizona's defense inside, hit 13 3-pointers.
The scoring from Arizona's freshmen corps included 13 points from reserve forward Michael Wright, eight from guard Ruben Douglas and six from Wessel.
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