The offensive issues for No. 2 Arizona began before sophomore forward Brandon Ashley was lost for the season with a broken right foot. In the 60-58 loss at Cal in which Ashley suffered his injury the Wildcats shot just 32.3% from the field, but that was the third of a four-game stretch in which Arizona would shoot no better than 40% in any of those contests.
Accounting for the loss of a player who provided 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game isn’t easy, especially when considering how versatile Ashley is on both ends of the floor. Arizona will have to do so as a unit, with multiple players chipping in, and if that happens they’re still a team capable of making a run at a national title. On Sunday night against Oregon State that was the case, with the Wildcats making 50% of their shots from the field (56.5% from two) on their way to a comfortable 76-54 victory.
Arizona didn’t shoot particularly well from three, making just three of their 12 attempts, but they made up for this by consistently looking to get the ball inside. The Wildcats scored 40 points in the paint, and Aaron Gordon led four players in double figures with 17 points. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tallied a career-high 16 to go along with five rebounds and three assists, with T.J. McConnell (11 points, six assists) and Nick Johnson (ten points, three assists) also reaching double figures.
Also of note is the fact that without Ashley the Wildcats’ work on the offensive glass becomes even more important, and against Oregon State they corralled nearly 43% of their own misses and converted those opportunities into 13 second-chance points. With the lack of consistent “lights-out” perimeter shooters, paint touches and second-chance opportunities will continue to be important areas for Arizona to take advantage of as the season wears on.
Defensively the Wildcats were good, with Johnson being the primary defender of Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson. The Pac-12’s leading scorer, Nelson was limited to ten points on 3-for-12 shooting from the field. If there’s one thing Arizona’s consistently done this season it’s defend, and that’s unlikely to change thanks to the remaining personnel.
But that’s a known at this point for Arizona. The concern for the Wildcats in the aftermath of Ashley’s injury was whether or not they’d be able to generate enough points against the teams they’ll need to beat in order to be a title contender. Oregon State isn’t the greatest litmus test but after the last four games Arizona needed to get back to creating quality looks inside by way of either the pass or dribble penetration, and they were able to do that.
No. 25 Texas A&M made a statement on Turkey Day, as they knocked off No. 10 Gonzaga 62-61 in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Danuel House led the way with 19 points for the Aggies while Tony Trocha-Morales finished with 14 points as Texas A&M picked up the win despite the fact that they did not score for the final eight minutes of the game.
Billy Kennedy’s club looked the part of an SEC contender, playing tough defense and keeping Gonzaga’s massive and talented front line in check. Perhaps most impressive was that they were able to hang on despite blowing a lead late in the second half, and that they did it with their defense. Gonzaga can score. They have big bodies inside and shooters to surround them, but Domantas Sabonis struggled with foul struggle throughout the game while Kyle Wiltjer did not score in the final 12 minutes.
Kentucky, at this point, is the clear-cut favorite in the SEC, and while Vanderbilt looked really good in Maui this week, A&M looks like they’re going to end up giving the Commodores a run for their money for second-best in the league.
On the other hand, this loss wasn’t a total disaster for the Zags. They had the final possession with a chance to be a good team on a day when Domantas Sabonis was rendered completely ineffective. And, more importantly, point guard Josh Perkins was terrific. He did have a late turnover, but he scored all 15 of his points in the second half as he helped keep the Zags within striking distance.
Texas A&M will play the winner of Syracuse and No. 18 UConn for the title.
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Syracuse vs. No. 18 UConn, 3:30 p.m.
For the first time since the Orange departed the Big East, the two former rivals will square off. Today’s battle will take place at the Battle 4 Atlantis, as the Orange knocked off Charlotte yesterday and the Huskies dispatched Michigan. To get ready for this battle, I’d suggest ready through the conversation @NoEscalators had with himself last night.
THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 25 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Gonzaga, 1:00 p.m.
The other semifinal in the Battle 4 Atlantis could end up being just as good, as the Aggies — who might be the second best team in the SEC — square off with a Gonzaga team that has one of the best front lines in the country. This will be a good test to figure out just how good both of these teams are.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. No. 20 Wichita State vs. USC, 2:00 p.m.: The Shockers will be without Fred VanVleet for this event. It will also be a chance for us to gauge just how good this 4-0 USC team is.
2. No. 23 Xavier vs. Alabama, 12:00 p.m: The Musketeers should have no problems dispatching Alabama.
3. No. 8 Villanova vs. Stanford, 4:30 p.m.: The Wildcats are, once again, as good as any team in the country. Josh Hart might be the nation’s most underrated star.
4. No. 14 Cal vs. San Diego State, 12:00 a.m.: Tyrone Wallace and company have been awesome this season. They get their first real test of the season tonight.
5. Providence vs. Evansville, 7:00 p.m.: Evansville is one of the nation’s best mid-majors, good enough to give the likes of Wichita State and Northern Iowa a fight in the Missouri Valley. And Providence? They got a kid named Kris Dunn. Heard of him?
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
- No. 3 Michigan State vs. Boston College, 6:30 p.m.
- No. 11 Arizona vs. Santa Clara, 11:30 p.m.
- No. 17 Notre Dame vs. Monmouth, 6:30 p.m.