Aaron Gordon

No. 4 Arizona steamrolls Colorado as Aaron Gordon finds his perimeter touch

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No. 4 Arizona entered Saturday night’s trip to Boulder in a bit of a rut offensively since Brandon Ashley’s injury.

What happened on Saturday?

They jumped out to a 21-5 lead 10 minutes into the game, and while the Buffaloes were able to cut the lead to four early in the second half, Arizona just straight embarrassed Colorado down the stretch. The final score? 88-61, which included extended minutes for some of Arizona’s bench players.

Arizona shot 60.3% from the floor, went 8-for-17 from three and averaged 1.313 points-per-possession, numbers that are markedly better than anything that they’ve done in the last three weeks. Aaron Gordon put on a show, scoring 21 of his 23 points in the second half, going 2-for-2 from beyond the arc while doubling the number of threes he’s hit in league play. Nick Johnson had been mired in an awful slump and broke out of it with 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting.

What changed for the Wildcats?

Frankly, it might have been as simple as confidence.

The issue with Arizona over the last five games hasn’t simply been their ability to get open looks, it has been their ability to actually make those shots. The perfect example is Johnson, who was 19-for-70 from the floor and 2-for-20 from three in over that stretch. Even if he’s getting contested looks, Johnson should shoot better than that.

With Gordon, the problem is that he wouldn’t even look at the rim from the three-point line. Opposing fours play ten feet off of him when he’s outside the three-point line. It clogs up the middle, making it difficult to get the ball into center Kaleb Tarczewski on the block. If Gordon can make enough threes to keep defenses honest, it will open things up in the paint.

Losing Ashley hurts because he’s big. Arizona was able to overwhelm teams with their size and athleticism. But what him indispensable was his ability to shoot at the four spot.

Gordon has proven he’s capable of making shots from out there when he’s playing confident. If he can build on this game, if he can be a guy that makes 35% of the open threes he shoots, than Arizona instantly becomes a much better team.

If that happens, Saturday night may go down as the most important game of the season for the Wildcats.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.