The hint of suspense lasted no longer than it took for Ken Lofton to find Anthony Cook open for an alley-oop pass--about 13 seconds.
That was Arizona’s first strike on the way to a 21-2 lead over Robert Morris in a game that ended--mercifully for the Colonials--in a 94-60 Arizona victory.
With that, the top-ranked Wildcats took the first step toward returning to the Final Four for a second consecutive year, winning their first-round game in the West Regional of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament before a crowd of 11,652 at Boise State Pavilion.
Arizona will play Clemson in the second round Saturday.
“It was a case where it was pretty obvious we had the much better talent,” Arizona Coach Lute Olson said. “I thought we came out early and really took the game over. We shot really well and did the things we had to do.”
Apologies to Robert Morris, but Arizona had only to make the tipoff.
“It was a case of just too many people for them to deal with,” Olson said.
Sean Elliott, who made four three-pointers in four tries in the first half, led the way, finishing with 27 points and seven rebounds. And when it wasn’t Elliott riddling the Colonial defense, it was Cook, who scored 25 points, eight of them on first-half dunks.
The Colonials, from suburban Pittsburgh, also had to deal with their own case of what Coach Jarrett Durham called tournament jitters.
After shooting 49% from the field all season, Robert Morris made only nine of 37 attempts in the first half, and only 24 of 76 (31.6%) in the game.
“We couldn’t put the ball in the hole,” Durham said. “I think you can attribute that to the youngness of our basketball team and the greatness of Arizona. . . . What hurt more than anything else was we got open for easy shots but weren’t able to convert. Once we fell behind, we got a little down on ourselves.”
It quickly became the kind of game at which it would have seemed polite to turn one’s head.
When the Colonials’ Andre Boyd threw away a pass and covered his head with his hands in anguish, the wisdom in Robert Morris earning a bid to the NCAA tournament was not particularly evident.
“I guess we learned something,” Boyd said. “We’re very young. I hope we can come back next year. Maybe next year we’ll win.”
For Arizona (28-3), it was a tournament debut along the order of the Wildcats’ 90-50 victory over Cornell in the first round last year.
“Every game now--we have five left, we hope--it doesn’t get any easier,” Olson said.
The Wildcats’ only moments of concern in the game occurred when Jud Buechler turned an ankle in the second half and left the game.
“Our trainer feels that it shouldn’t be a problem,” Olson said.
Because the ankle was iced immediately, swelling should be minimal and probably will not inhibit Buechler in the Wildcats’ second-round game Saturday, he said.
“It might be a little bit sore, but he should be OK,” Olson said.
Arizona got a somewhat unexpected boost from Sean Rooks, who scored 16 points, 10 in the second half, and played solid defense.
By the end, the game was slipping even further from Robert Morris’ reach. Four of Arizona’s final five field goals were dunks.
“It was like a highlight show at the end,” said forward Vaughn Luton, who led the Colonials (21-9) with 23 points.
On the final possession, Scott Shepherd got the ball around half-court and, unhurriedly, trailing by 34 with time left, he launched a 40-foot shot. It was not a desperation shot, more a resignation shot. It missed the basket and the long 40 minutes were over.