In their first game playing without Brandon Ashley, No. 2 Arizona survived.
That’s really the only way to describe their 67-65 win over Oregon on Thursday night at the McKale Center.
T.J. McConnell hit a three (finally!) to give Arizona a 62-60 lead in the final two minutes, while Nick Johnson hit a couple of free throws (finally!) down the stretch as the Wildcats hung on.
McConnell finished the night 2-for-9 from the floor and 2-for-6 from three. The Wildcats, as a team, shot 4-for-16 from three and 19-for-35 from the free throw line. Aaron Gordon was the main culprit, hitting just 2-for-11 from the charity stripe.
In fact, when it comes down to it, Arizona won for two reasons:
1. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played his heart out, making the most out of his first Pac-12 start by finishing with 14 points, 10 boards, three assists, two blocks and a steal, making two critical plays during Arizona’s late comeback.
2. The Wildcats played really well defensively in the second half, but they got the added bonus of some truly horrific offensive execution and decision-making from the Ducks down the stretch.
In other words, Oregon outplayed Arizona. The Ducks probably deserved to win this game, which is a problem. As talented as Oregon is, there isn’t a more disappointing team in the Pac-12. There may not be a more disappointing team in the country. Remember, this was a group that was ranked in the top ten before losing five in a row at one point and seven of their last nine games.
What’s wrong with Arizona?
Well, pretty much everything I told you would be wrong here.
Arizona is really limited offensively when they have to play Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson together at the forward spot. Neither of those two is a threat to score from beyond five feet right now, and defenses are playing them that way. The same can be said for T.J. McConnell, who was dared to fire away from three by Oregon. Eventually, he made them pay, but the cost is that Oregon was able to clog up the lane, making it difficult to get Kaleb Tarczewski post touches and for the now-smaller Wildcats to get to the offensive glass.
The Wildcats don’t have much in the way of front court depth, either. When Kaleb Tarczewski went out in the first half, Sean Miller used Gordon at the five, Hollis-Jefferson at the four and three guards. When Gordon got into foul trouble at the end of the first half, he brought in Hollis-Jefferson instead of Matt Korcheck or any of the other bigs on his bench. Elliot Pitts was the seventh man off the bench.
In the end, there is enough talent on this roster that Miller should still bring home a Pac-12 title. He should still finish with a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, and this is still a group that can potentially make a run to the Final Four.
But there are going to have to be changes made.