Without arguably their most versatile offensive threat in sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, it was clear at the time of his season-ending injury that No. 2 Arizona had some important adjustments to make. Ashley’s injury robbed the Wildcats of a player capable of scoring both inside and out, and that personnel hit was something Arizona would need the assistance of multiple players to help account for it.
Losing a player of Ashley’s caliber made Nick Johnson’s role within the Arizona offense even more important. Averaging 15.8 points per game, Johnson’s led the way for the Wildcats for much of this season while shooting 44.6% from the field. However in the aftermath of Ashley’s injury Johnson has struggled offensively, and that remained the case in the Wildcats’ 69-66 double overtime loss at Arizona State on Friday night.
Johnson scored 14 points on 5-for-20 shooting from the field, failing to make a single field goal in either overtime period. Given his ability to score in a variety of ways, something no other Wildcat currently in the rotation can consistently do, Johnson is the player Arizona can’t afford to see go through a shooting slump. Yet over the last four games, Johnson’s shooting 25% from the field and 1-for-18 from beyond the arc.
To be fair Johnson isn’t the only player who’s struggled offensively of late, and against Arizona State the Wildcats shot just 35.9% from the field and 4-for-16 from deep. Finding quality shots proved difficult for much of the night, and the combination of this with poor foul shooting (16-for-30) and an inability to take advantage of 18 offensive rebounds (five second-chance points) eventually caught up to the Wildcats.
Another problem for Arizona on Friday, and it’s one that could prove problematic in the NCAA tournament, is their lack of depth when it comes to offensive production. Arizona’s bench didn’t score a single point against Arizona State, with Gabe York missing all six of his shot attempts and Elliott Pitts going 0-for-2. With Rondae Hollis-Jefferson now in the starting lineup as a result of Ashley’s injury, Arizona needs to get something from its bench in order to be successful and this has to occur consistently.
With the loss of Ashley, Arizona’s margin for error became incredibly small. And if the Wildcats are unable to take advantage of their ability to hit the offensive boards, which was the case against Arizona State, the task of scoring at an efficient rate becomes even more arduous. And if Arizona can’t figure out its offensive issues, the race for the Pac-12 title will end up being wilder than anyone would have imagined just a couple weeks ago.
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.