Arizona basketball (1-0) opened up the 2013-14 campaign with a gritty 73-62 win over Cal Poly (0-1) on friday night in Tucson. After looking rather impressive in their only exhibition showing, the Wildcats struggled to shake free from the Mustangs until late in the second half. As has been the case for visitors to the McKale Center in recent years, the visiting Mustangs posted an impressive 11-26 mark from deep to keep things close most of the way. Arizona was never in any real danger of losing, and both coaches and fans alike could have walked away form this one feeling a lot better had the ‘Cats simply performed like they normally do at the free throw line.
For the rest of the season, I will be posting day after game articles simply reviewing the game and what I liked and didn’t like. This will hopefully give Arizona (and anyone for that matter) fans a different look at this year’s team. While I do look forward to this time of the year each and every year, I am more than willing to point out both the good and the bad of the team and take a look at things in an honest manner. So without further delay…
The play of Aaron Gordon – It certainly didn’t take long for the fab freshman to make his impact on the collegiate level. In his first collegiate game, Gordon posted a 13/10/4 (Pts, Rebs, Blks) stat line and seemingly left his mark on every play on both sides of the ball. With all the recent talk about Gordon’s perceived (and rightfully so) shooting woes, his ability to produce garbage-style plays has been overlooked. On numerous occasions Gordon gathered offensive rebounds and converted them to points, and also once again did a tremendous job cleaning the defensive glass and starting the break himself.
Contrary to his exhibition game performance, Gordon stayed within himself on the offensive end and either got himself good looks at the rim or settled for wide open jumpshots. Although he does not have the smoothest stroke, he is perfectly capable of making perimeter jumpers when left open. The one knock on him tonight, as can be said for many, would be the free throw shooting. But i would be surprised if he didn’t shoot upwards of 70% for the year, and that would certainly play for this team.
The balanced scoring effort – One of my favorite qualities about this year’s team is although there are not many players who can create their own individual looks, each player at Miller’s disposal poses some kind of threat on the offensive end. Arizona had five players in double figures tonight, with no player over 13 points. The ability of T.J. McConnell to distribute and set up his teammates is obvious, but the team passing by the rest of the roster is very underrated. Nick Johnson, Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski all move the ball very well and this will help alleviate some of the pressure on outside shooters due to the fact that their teammates can get them better shots.
The ability to play defense without fouling – Much has been made of the offseason rule changes surrounding college basketball and the notion that attempting to free up the game on offense will lead to many teams accruing huge foul totals. This was actually a pretty accurate statement when looking through other box scores from Friday, but with only 15 team fouls, Arizona did a sensational job of playing pressure defense and contesting basically every look all without fouling. It will be important moving forward especially for Brandon Ashley and Tarczewski to stay out of foul trouble and keep the opponent off the free throw line, because we have seen through two games that it is difficult to score on Arizona in the halfcourt due to their length and quickness.
The lineup flexibility – Raise your hand if you had Gabe York starting coming into this game. Nobody? Sounds about right. But what a great move it turned out to be. Whether the move was made for matchup purposes or whatever the case may be, York (and the whole first unit) provided a spark to start the game that has been missing for the past few seasons. I still find it hard to believe some people (national analysts) are saying Arizona’s best lineup does not include Tarczewski, but I cannot deny the fact that starting York and going smaller in some instances would definitely be beneficial. I would be surprised if this was a continuing thing, but it would not surprise me to see Miller continue to utilize his team’s lineup flexibility as the season wears on.
Free throw shooting – Yikes. 20-36 from the line (55%) will simply not cut it. But for the record, the past few years one of Arizona’s strengths has been the ability to both get to and covert at the free throw line, so I don’t see this problem lasting long. I attribute Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s shaky performances (9 combined misses) to early career jitters, so that is understandable. But with the frequency both those two and the rest of the ‘Cats could be going to the line for the rest of the year this problem is worth keeping an eye on.
Jordin Mayes – Let me preface this by saying there has been, and will continue to be, no bigger supporter of Mayes over his career here than me. He provides valuable long-range shooting when he is right and has the ability to chip in 7-9 points and a few steals and assists on a nightly basis, something college coaches around the nation would kill for consistently. But sometimes when Mayes is off, he is way off. Friday night he had three turnovers in four minutes and by my count was minus-9 in the +/- department. He did not see any playing time in the second half and rumor (from PointGuardU) was aware of Mayes’ struggles after the game. But of course, it is only one game, and Mayes will continue to be counted on to provide good minutes and I personally see him having no problem doing so as the season marches on.
Arizona’s next contest will be Monday night against Long Beach State. Stay tuned and follow me on twitter @afoshie for future stories and updates.