Utah v Arizona

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson saves No. 2 Arizona against Oregon

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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.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.