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.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?