Top-ranked Arizona remained undefeated on Thursday night, pulling away in the second half and beating reigning SWAC tournament champion Southern by a 69-43 final score. With starting center Kaleb Tarczewski out after spraining his ankle in the Wildcats’ win at Michigan on Saturday freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson moved into the starting lineup, meaning that Arizona needed to have another bench option step up.
Gabe York scored six points in 22 minutes of action, but the majority of the offensive work was done by the starting trio of guard Nick Johnson and forwards Aaron Gordon and Brandon Ashley. Gordon scored a career-high 21 points to lead the way for Arizona, with Johnson scoring 17 and Ashley posting a double-double with 11 points and ten rebounds. As a team Arizona scored 34 points in the paint and 17 second-chance points against a team that despite its efforts proved to be overmatched inside.
That ability to get into the paint and convert their opportunities has been one of the keys thus far for Arizona, a team that entered Thursday’s game shooting 37.9% from beyond the arc. While that percentage isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, Arizona ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in three-point attempts (161) and tenth in the percentage of points that they score via that shot (21.6%).
Given their athleticism and ability to get into the painted area either through penetration of the passing of a T.J. McConnell, it’s easy to see why Sean Miller’s team ranks in the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency. With those interior scoring opportunities will come trips to the foul line. And after shooting just 59.5% from the foul line against the Jaguars, should there be concern regarding Arizona’s proficiency from the charity stripe?
Entering Thursday Arizona ranked ninth in the Pac-12 in free throw percentage, making 67.9% of their attempts. Arizona scored 20.7% of its points from the foul line, a mark that ranks eighth in the Pac-12. Against Southern Gordon made just four of his ten attempts, and given how athletic he is teams will look to make him “earn” those points from the foul line as the season wears on. Arizona’s foul shooting has yet to cost them in a game this season, but with an eye towards March (and maybe even April for this group) the Wildcats need to improve their foul shooting.
Two-point baskets and offensive rebounding have been keys for Arizona, and that will likely continue to be the case unless multiple players somehow become elite three-point shooters in the very near future. With that comes the need to take advantage of their trips to the foul line, because in a big game leaving points on the table could prove costly.
(This will be updated throughout the day.)
GAME OF THE DAY: Syracuse 74, No. 25 Texas A&M 67
The Orange got 20 points from Michael Gbinije and 15 points and five assists from Trevor Cooney as they won the Battle 4 Atlantis title on Friday afternoon. We wrote on this game earlier. Are the Orange for real this year?
No. 10 Gonzaga 73, No. 17 UConn 70: Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis made some big plays down the stretch as the Bulldogs held on to win a game they led by as much as 21 in the second half. Kyle Wiltjer scored a team-best 17 points for Gonzaga, which finished third at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Rob Dauster wrote more about the Bulldogs and their second-half performance here.
Alabama 64, No. 20 Wichita State 60: Not only did the Shockers drop their second straight at the AdvoCare Invitational, but they also saw Anton Grady leave the game on a stretcher after being involved in a scary second-half collision. He was awake and alert shortly after leaving the court. While the Shockers’ losses to USC and Alabama don’t help them from an NCAA tournament standpoint, the bigger issue is the team’s health.
Quincy Ford, Northeastern: Not only did he score 24 points in the upset win over No. 15 Miami, but he hit the game-winning jumper, too. Video here.
Wichita State’s bigs: Five of them (Anton Grady, Zach Brown, Rashard Kelly, Bush Wakumota, Eric Hamilton) finished a combined 3-for-21 from the floor with 14 points and 14 fouls. Wakumota shot one of the worst threes you’ll ever see with Wichita State down 62-60 with 10 seconds left.
Grady suffered a scary neck injury late in the game, but early reports sound positive.
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
- Jamal Murray went for 21 points and three assists without a turnover at No. 1 Kentucky rolled over South Florida. The big question: How bad is Tyler Ulis’ elbow injury?
- Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart both had 13 points as No. 8 Villanova knocked off Georgia Tech to win the Preseason NIT, 69-52.
- No. 23 Xavier raced out of the gates against USC and led by as much as 32, going on to win 87-77 in Orlando. Trevon Bluiett led four Musketeers in double figures with 16 points and James Farr added 12 to go along with nine rebounds off the bench.
OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS
- Stanford finished third at the Preseason NIT with a 69-66 win over Arkansas, closing the game on a stunning 21-1 run. Rosco Allen scored eight of his career-high 25 points during that run, and Marcus Allen’s goal-tended layup with 2.6 seconds remaining gave the Cardinal the lead for good.
UNLV sophomore Goodluck Okonoboh is transferring out of the program, a source told NBCSports.com.
The 6-foot-10 center was the No. 31 recruit in the Class of 2014, but he never was able to find a place in the UNLV rotation. He averaged 2.9 blocks as a freshman, but is a career 34 percent free throw shooter that never proved he could be more than just an athlete.
With Ben Carter getting eligible and UNLV landing Stephen Zimmerman this season, Okonoboh’s minutes dried up. He played just 19 minutes total against UCLA and Indiana.