Gabe York

Gabe York
Associated Press

Strong second half propels No. 19 Arizona to win at No. 13 Gonzaga


While neutral site games and in-season tournaments can help teams figure out who they are, there’s no test more valuable than having to do so in a hostile environment. No. 19 Arizona played its first road game Saturday afternoon, and despite trailing by as many as 14 points Sean Miller’s team found a way to beat No. 13 Gonzaga 68-63 in Spokane.

And while the Wildcats were much improved offensively in the second stanza, it was their defense and perimeter play that opened the door for a comeback.

Senior guard Gabe York led the way with 14 second-half points while also grabbing six rebounds and dishing out two assists, playing the entire 20 minutes as Arizona made its charge. York scored all 14 of those points during a stretch in which Arizona outscored Gonzaga 22-10, turning a 40-28 deficit into a 50-50 tie with 12:57 remaining. The Wildcats needed someone to step forward offensively to provide a much-needed spark, and he was the one to do so.

Ryan Anderson (11 second-half points) and Allonzo Trier, who was Arizona’s best offensive player in the first half, chipped in as well, with Arizona shooting 50 percent from the field and scoring 20 points in the paint. As opposed to seemingly looking to go “shot for shot” with Gonzaga, Arizona did a better job of getting the shots that worked for them as the second half progressed which resulted in their averaging nearly 1.1 points per possession.

And for those clamoring for the Wildcats to find a “go-t0 guy,” it was York and Anderson who combined for the game-sealing pick and roll with less than 20 seconds remaining. Contrast that with the end of their loss to Providence, which had Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic doing so in a sequence that resulted in a turnover. Saturday’s finish gets Arizona closer to figuring out that particular role, which will only help them down the line.

But the improved offense would not have meant anything Saturday without better play on the defensive end. Without Kaleb Tarczewski (Przemek Karnowski didn’t play for Gonzaga), who is out with a left foot injury, Arizona had to account for the absence of its best interior defender and that was an issue against Gonzaga’s tandem of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis.

Wiltjer, who finished with 33 points, and Sabonis (18 points, 16 rebounds), combined to score 32 of Gonzaga’s 38 first half points and to no one’s surprise they were going to be an issue throughout for Anderson, Dusan Ristic and Mark Tollefsen. As a team Gonzaga averaged 0.67 points per possession in the second half, and Wiltjer needed 15 shots to score his 13 second-half points.

So how did Arizona get Gonzaga out of its comfort zone? By making the big men make challenged shots and forcing the guards, most notably Josh Perkins who committed four of his five turnovers in the second half, to make plays. Contrast that with Arizona’s two-headed point guard of Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who combined to commit just one turnover.

The questions surrounding Gonzaga focused on their perimeter play, which is to be expected given just how much they lost from last year’s Elite Eight team. It isn’t easy to replace Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley, which frankly goes without saying. Young players such as Perkins and Silas Melson will continue to develop for head coach Mark Few as the season wears on.

But on this day Arizona’s guards, led by York, won the matchup and that was a major factor in the final result.

Unlike last season’s team, which returned a lot of experience and had clear role definition almost from the start, this current group of Wildcats is still figuring things out and Saturday’s win doesn’t change that. But it does serve as an important result for a team looking to grow into a group capable of winning a third consecutive Pac-12 title.

Depth, guard play make the difference for No. 12 Arizona

Associated Press

TUCSON, Arizona — After winning 35 games and reaching the Elite Eight last season, No. 12 Arizona had to address the fact that four starters from that team had moved on.

And with three of those players currently in the NBA, addressing those losses would not be a simple task for Sean Miller and his coaching staff. But what will help in that quest is Arizona’s depth, and that attribute was on display Thursday night as they beat Boise State 88-76 in an unbracketed game in the Wooden Legacy.

On a night that saw senior center Kaleb Tarczewski account for just four points and nine rebounds and Ryan Anderson (15 rebounds) finish with only eight points on 4-for-13 shooting, other players managed to step forward. Dusan Ristic gave the Wildcats a valuable eight points and five rebounds off the bench, and Arizona’s guards stepped forward on both ends of the floor as well.

Of those perimeter players Gabe York led the way, scoring his 23 points (7-for-12 FG) on multiple levels and being a tough cover for Boise State’s guards. But the looks York managed to connect on would not have been present without the help of his teammates.

“Everyone did a great job of trying to find me, and when I took a bad shot, no one was upset because I think I shot the ball pretty well tonight,” York said after the game. “Parker (Jackson-Cartwright) found me a lot in transition. Kadeem (Allen) did a great job of finding me, and I was able to knock down shots.”

The 6-foot-3 senior guard is a prime example of what can happen when a player sticks to the process, steadily honing his skills and earning more playing time ahead of a final campaign in which the opportunities to score would be plentiful. After averaging 9.2 points per game as a junior York entered Thursday’s game as one of four Wildcats in double figures, and his performance was one reason why Arizona was able to gain some separation in the second half as the visiting Broncos became stagnant offensively.

York was one of four guards to finish the game in double figures Thursday night, but it could be argued that the most important of those contributions (with an eye towards the future) came from Jackson-Cartwright and Allen.

Those two have the difficult task of stepping into the lead guard role left vacant by the departure of McConnell, who was a floor general in every sense of the phrase. But for Arizona to be successful they don’t have to be McConnell, because Allen and Jackson-Cartwright’s respective games differ from the current Philadelphia 76er.

Against Boise State Jackson-Cartwright provided the early spark, coming off the bench to score 12 of his 14 points in the first half and providing a much-needed supplement to York’s offensive output. Allen grabbed the baton in the second half, tallying eight points (he finished with ten) and five assists (six for the game) with just one turnover. Add in Trier scoring 11 of his 13 in the second half, and Arizona had enough production to hold off Boise State’s two-headed front court monster of James Webb III (27 points, nine rebounds) and Nick Duncan (21 points).

“Parker was a big reason we won the game and so was Alonzo,” Miller said. “I talked to both guys after the game…I was disappointed in the way we finished the game with both of them in, because in my opinion if we didn’t have the performance from either one of them we would not have been in the winner’s circle.”

It is early in the season, but it’s apparent that instead of having that single stalwart to call upon at the point Arizona has two players capable of shepherding the team. Before the season began Allen was labeled by some as the “scoring” point guard with Jackson-Cartwright filling the role of distributor. But Thursday night both showed the ability to do things outside of the labels affixed to them, and that can only benefit the Wildcats moving forward.

“(Kadeem) makes me better every day, and I try to do the same with him,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “He is a bigger, stronger guard. He can get into the pain as well as shoot. Going against him every day has been tremendous in making me better.”

On a night in which their leading scorer entering the game shot 4-f0r-13 from the field, Arizona managed to shoot better than 54 percent from the field and 10-for-21 from beyond the arc. Add in a 38-3 edge in bench points, and it’s easy to see why the Wildcats were able to pull away from a game Boise State squad.

At this point in time Arizona may not have the decisive answers at some positions that are generally demanded in college basketball, but they do have a lot of options. And that’s a good “issue” to have if you’re Sean Miller.

T.J. McConnell, Gabe York lead No. 2 Arizona past No. 10 Ohio State

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Entering Saturday’s Round of 32 matchup between No. 2 Arizona and No. 10 Ohio State, most of the attention was focused on the two elite freshmen (Arizona’s Stanley Johnson and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell) and the fact that Russell was expected to see a lot of one of the nation’s top defenders in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. But as the game played out one thing became clear: Arizona senior point guard T.J. McConnell was the best player on the floor in Portland.

While his name may not be tossed around as frequently by NBA scouts as the three players above, McConnell is an incredibly important piece for Sean Miller’s Wildcats. And in their 73-58 win over the Buckeyes, thus earning a third straight Sweet 16 appearance, the Pittsburgh native’s fingerprints were all over the game.

McConnell finished with 19 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals, becoming the first Pac-12 player since Jason Kidd in 1993 to post a line of at least 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals in an NCAA tournament game. He’s been the leader all season for Arizona, and when they struggled to crack Ohio State’s matchup zone in the first half McConnell accounted for eight points to help the Wildcats take a one-point lead into the half.

In the second half another Arizona guard, junior Gabe York, stepped forward and the Wildcats were able to pull away as a result. York scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half, shooting 4-for-7 from three (he made five for the game), and Ohio State’s inability to find him proved to be their downfall.

York was responsible for five of Arizona’s seven three-pointers, and that was a critical contribution considering the fact that the Wildcats shot a slightly higher percentage from three (36.8 percent) than from two (36.4 percent). The combination of York, McConnell, 20 points off of 12 Ohio State turnovers and a commanding performance on the boards proved to be too much for Thad Matta’s team to overcome.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the rough evening Russell had shooting the basketball.

Arizona threw multiple players (mainly Hollis-Jefferson and McConnell) at Russell and he was unable to get anything going, finishing with nine points, seven rebounds and six assists while shooting 3-for-19 from the field. Seniors Sam Thompson (18 points) and Shannon Scott (ten) reached double figures, but with their best scorer kept in check Ohio State couldn’t keep up once Arizona managed to crack the zone.

Next up for Arizona is either No. 6 Xavier, Miller’s last employer before he took the Arizona job in 2009, or No. 14 Georgia State Thursday night in Los Angeles.

Kaleb Tarczewski produces another quality outing as No. 7 Arizona beats No. 13 Utah

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Saturday night’s matchup with No. 7 Arizona represented quite the opportunity for No. 13 Utah. Not only could the Runnin’ Utes avenge their blowout loss in Tucson last month, but they could also pull into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 with two games left to play. And in a game that was tight throughout, it was Arizona that was able to make those crucial plays down the stretch.

The Wildcats finished the game on an 8-0 run, winning 63-57 and clinching at least a share of the the Pac-12 regular season title. Arizona shot just 33.3% from the field, but they limited Utah to 30.9% shooting and dominated the boards in the second half. The Wildcats managed to rebound half of its missed shots in the game’s final 20 minutes, with one key play being a Gabe York put back of his own missed free throw with 1:38 remaining.

His three points (York made the first free throw) during that sequence gave Arizona a lead they would not relinquish, as Sean Miller’s team strung together multiple stops and sealed things at the foul line.

Just as good for Arizona, especially when looking forward to even bigger games in March, was the play of junior center Kaleb Tarczewski. The 7-footer entered the game playing his best basketball of the season, and that remained the case in Salt Lake City. Tarczewski won his individual matchup with Utah freshman center Jakob Poeltl, accounting for 13 points and six rebounds in 33 minutes of action. And over the last five games Tarczewski is averaging 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

By comparison, Poeltl played just 12 minutes due to foul trouble and tallied four points and five rebounds before fouling out. And in a game of this magnitude, Utah could not afford to have one of the most important players struggle on both ends of the floor.

Tarczewski, who hit a significant rough patch earlier in conference play, as how scored in double figures in four of his last five games. With Stanley Johnson shooting just 3-for-19 from the field (he did finish with 12 points and 11 rebounds), and fellow starters T.J. McConnell (five rebounds and five assists) and Brandon Ashley scoring seven points apiece, Arizona needed the contributions of Tarczewski and York (12 points).

As they have on multiple occasions in recent games those two delivered, resulting in the Wildcats picking up what is one of the most impressive road wins in college basketball this season.

Delon Wright led Utah with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists, but the ball didn’t wind up in his hands often enough down the stretch. Moving forward, Utah’s Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate will have to be even more influential as the games become even bigger than Saturday night’s was. Utah fought hard for 40 minutes, displaying the staying power they did not show in the first meeting.

But it still wasn’t enough, as Arizona remained composed and found a way take control of the game in crunch time.

Junior guard starting to give No. 7 Arizona much-needed perimeter shooting

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While No. 7 Arizona’s 57-47 win over UCLA last Saturday wasn’t an offensive masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, one positive to be taken from the game was the perimeter shooting of junior guard Gabe York. After shooting a combined 2-for-9 from three in games against Arizona State and USC, York made three of his five three-point attempts and scored 13 points for the Wildcats.

On a night that saw many of the team’s main weapons struggle mightily against UCLA’s multiple defensive looks, York was a key reason (along with their defense) why the Wildcats were able to pull away despite beginning both halves with lengthy scoring droughts. The question in the days leading up to Arizona’s game at Colorado Thursday night was whether or not York would be able to build on that performance, and he answered in the affirmative.

The Wildcats had little trouble with the Buffaloes, winning 82-54, and York was one of five players to score in double figures as he tallied 14 points. York shot 4-for-5 from three, meaning that he’s made seven of his last ten three-point attempts. These last two games represent the first time since mid-December that York has managed to make multiple three-pointers in consecutive games.

He’s shooting the basketball with increased confidence, and for a team that doesn’t have a high number of consistent perimeter shooters this is an important development moving forward.

“Coach (Sean Miller) got me the first shot to get me going and the defense was giving me these open looks and I just knocked them down,” York said. “Right now I just have the utmost confidence. The basket just looks like a sea to me right now.”

With a trip to Salt Lake City to take on No. 13 Utah Saturday night next on the schedule, Thursday’s win was just what Arizona needed from an offensive standpoint. The Wildcats shot nearly 53 percent from the field against Colorado, and with junior center Kaleb Tarczewski playing with increased confidence (he’s averaging 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds over the last four games) Arizona’s getting more production from its starting center.

With all of the athletic tools at Sean Miller’s disposal they need a pressure release of sorts, a player who can make teams pay for sagging in order to take away driving lanes for wings Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. And as the calendar approaches March, Gabe York is beginning to emerge as that figure.

Arizona giving sophomore forward practice reps at point guard

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
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After suffering a concussion late in No. 6 Arizona’s win over Oregon last Wednesday, freshman point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright missed the team’s win over Oregon State two days later. Without Jackson-Cartwright, head coach Sean Miller used junior Gabe York as his backup to T.J. McConnell, with York seeing extended minutes at the point once McConnell landed in foul trouble in the first half.

Thursday, two days prior to the team’s trip north to take on rival Arizona State, Miller stated during his weekly press conference that Jackson-Cartwright has yet to return to practice. And with that being the case, Arizona has worked out a third player at the point to cover themselves should something happen to McConnell and/or York.

That player: sophomore forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who is one of the most versatile defenders in the country.

“It’s going to call on Gabe (York) and Elliott (Pitts) to play more minutes,” Miller said. “They did that in the last game and I though both guys did a really good job. Mostly Gabe but we also let Rondae (play the point) in case we got into an injury or foul trouble. You always want to have three who can play that position because of an injury or foul trouble. You don’t want to get caught where you can’t execute your normal system.”

In the story written by Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star, York was complimentary of Hollis-Jefferson’s play at the point during practice Wednesday. Jackson-Cartwright has shown signs of progress at the point, as his daily work with and against McConnell helped the freshman carve out a spot in the rotation.

But the injury has, for the time being, put that progress on hold which means Arizona has to find other solutions while Jackson-Cartwright is out of the lineup.

Hollis-Jefferson getting reps at the point won’t change his primary role offensively, as he’ll continue to start on the wing opposite freshman Stanley Johnson and McConnell will continue to get the lion’s share of the minutes as the team’s primary ball-handler. But with their depth at the position taking a hit, Arizona needed to come up with another contingency plan should they need it one the future.