TUCSON, Ariz. – Southern Miss' zone gave No. 8 Arizona problems all night.
The problem for the Golden Eagles was the Wildcats' defense, particularly in the second half.
Southern Miss spoiled an 11-point first-half lead and what would have been a huge road victory by committing 17 of its 23 turnovers in the second half of a 63-55 loss to Arizona.
"The bottom line is we are a young team," first-year Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall said. "This is the first time these guys have played in front of a crowd like this, 13,000 fans. We are the least-experienced team in Division I, so to come into an environment like this can be overwhelming."
The Golden Eagles almost pulled it off.
Playing without leading scorer Dwayne Davis due to the flu, Southern Miss (6-2) led by eight at halftime after forcing Arizona into 13 turnovers.
The Golden Eagles kept forcing the Wildcats into mistakes in the second half, but couldn't overcome their own.
Southern Miss missed all eight of its 3-pointers in the second half and had turnovers on eight consecutive possessions to nearly quadruple its total from the first half, spoiling what was a superb defensive effort in one of college basketball's toughest road environments.
Neil Watson led Southern Miss with 17 points and Michael Craig added 10 with seven rebounds.
"Both defenses were going after the ball, both teams were playing hard," Tyndall said. "You have to credit the defense; they were forcing turnovers. I thought few of ours were unforced, though."
Struggling against Southern Miss' zone, Arizona (6-0) spent most of the night throwing passes that had no hope of being completed, bumbling away others, giving the ball back seconds after forcing a turnover on defense.
The Wildcats survived behind their defense and veteran leadership.
Picking up the defensive pressure, Arizona forced Southern Miss into 17 second-half turnovers and gave the Golden Eagles no room to shoot, inside or out.
Faced with a tight game, Arizona coach Sean Miller stuck with his proven players instead of the talented youngsters for most of the second half and they came through.
Nick Johnson scored 23 points while leading the turnover-creating charge at the top of Arizona's defense.
Kevin Parrom gave the Wildcats a release valve to Southern Miss' zone in the second half with his passing out of the high post and scored 13 of his 14 points in the second half.
Fellow senior Solomon Hill overcome a rare quiet night offensively with sturdy defense in the post and the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer in front of Arizona's bench that gave the Wildcats a 57-51 lead with 1:49 left.
All those turnovers and the Wildcats still managed to pull out a victory, giving them confidence that could carry over in tight games later in the season, not to mention their best start since opening the 1999-2000 season with six straight wins.
"Anytime you have 27 turnovers against a good team at home is unacceptable," Miller said. "Having said that, to be able to win and have all those turnovers, that's a completely different story."
This game was strength vs. strength: Arizona's offense against Southern Miss' defense.
The Golden Eagles had the advantage in the first half, turning Arizona's 13 turnovers — two fewer than it had in a win over Texas Tech on Saturday — into 18 points and a 35-27 lead.
The Wildcats turned the turnover table around in the second half.
Playing more aggressively, Arizona forced Southern Miss into 11 turnovers in the first eight minutes. Of course, the Wildcats weren't exactly taking care of the ball, so the game stayed close until the closing minutes.
That's when Arizona's upperclassmen took over.
Parrom got it started with two baskets inside and a 3-pointer in transition. Hill followed with his 3-pointer and Arizona's defense did the rest, keeping the Golden Eagles from making a run.
"We felt like we had the game in our hands and within our grasp, but coming into the second half we started getting loose," Watson said. "Arizona has a tight defense. They're No. 8 and in the second half, they showed us why they are No. 8."