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.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: J.J. Mann, Belmont
Mann led the Bruins to two massive wins this week, scoring 23 points as Rick Byrd’s club came from 16 points down to beat Indiana State at home. That’s the same Indiana State team that went into Notre Dame and beat the Fighting Irish by 13. He followed up that performance by scoring 28 — including three threes in the final minute — as Belmont knocked off then-No. 12 North Carolina 83-80.
Belmont wasn’t exactly expected to put together wins like this this season, not when they lost Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark, their starting back court from a season ago. Clark is now with the Utah Jazz. The program has proven to be impressively resilient, however. It doesn’t matter who they lose, there’s always someone else in line.
They were good, too:
- Perry Ellis, Kansas: While the freshmen dominated the conversation, Ellis finished with 24 points, nine boards and three steals in the Jayhawk win over Duke in the Champions Classic.
- Shabazz Napier, UConn: Napier’s been the best player in the American this season, leading UConn with 13.5 points, 9.8 boards and 7.5 assists. He had a triple-double against Yale.
- Treveon Graham, VCU: Graham went for 22 points, leading VCU in their win at Virginia. He also hit the game-winning three with 1.1 seconds left. He followed that up with a double-double against Winthrop.
- Brad Waldow, St. Mary’s: Waldow averaged 16.3 points, 8.3 boards and 3.3 blocks in three wins this week, including 18 points, 10 boards, five assists and three blocks against North Dakota State.
- Roberto Nelson, Oregon State: Playing in front of the First Family, Nelson went for 31 points and seven assists to lead the Beavers to a win at Maryland. He had 24 points and seven assists against Portland as well.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State looked absolutely dominant on the defensive end of the floor in their 52-35 win over a good Marquette team in the Bradley Center on Saturday afternoon. The win becomes all the more impressive when you consider that LaQuinton Ross, the guy that everyone thought would be filling Deshaun Thomas’ role as leading scorer, didn’t score a single point. If Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson can be as good as they were on Saturday on a consistent basis, the Buckeyes have a chance to win the Big Ten.
They were good, too:
- Belmont Bruins: Coming from 16 down to beat Indiana State and winning at North Carolina is a pretty good week for anyone, let alone a school in the Ohio Valley.
- Kansas Jayhawks: Their one win this week? Duke at the United Center.
- Michigan State Spartans: Tom Izzo’s club knocked off Kentucky in the Champions Classic and barely avoided a letdown game against Columbia on Friday.
- VCU Rams: The Rams went 2-0 this week with their most impressive win coming at Virginia during the Tip-Off Marathon.
- Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers have three terrific wins this season: St. John’s, Florida and at UW-Green Bay.
- UMass Minutemen: UMass knocked off LSU during the Marathon and followed that up with a win over Youngstown State. Chaz Williams and Cady Lalanne are a really good 1-2 punch.
What a difference a week makes for the Oregon State Beavers.
With big men Devon Collier and Eric Moreland suspended the Beavers lost their regular season opener to Coppin State, a team picked to finish ninth in the MEAC. That loss occurred despite senior guard Roberto Nelson scoring 36 points, as he attempted to carry Oregon State to the victory with limited offensive help from his teammates.
Now that Collier’s back in the fold Nelson has some help when it comes to managing the scoring load, and on Sunday evening those two combined to lead Oregon State to a 90-83 victory at Maryland. Nelson scored a game-high 31 points to go along with seven assists, shooting 12-for-14 from the foul line, and Collier added his second consecutive double-double with 29 points and 11 rebounds. And it’s safe to say that these last two games have displayed Collier’s importance to the Oregon State attack.
Nelson’s ability to score has been there for quite some time, but Oregon State wasn’t going to be able to “tread water” in either non-conference or Pac-12 play if he were the only scoring option. Enter Collier, who averaged 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game last season and has posted double-doubles in each of the two games he’s played in this season. With the return of Angus Brandt (missed much of last season with a torn ACL) inside and guards Challe Barton and Victor Robbins the Beavers do have experience, but without Collier they didn’t have much in the way of scoring punch.
“It was a team effort,” Collier said after the game. “I came out to play. Berto came out to play. Angus came out to play. The whole team came out to play. I felt it was a team effort; everybody followed the game plan and we came out with a victory.”
Oregon State will add their best interior defender in Eric Moreland when conference play begins in January and he’s a valuable piece, but he doesn’t threaten defenses to the level that Collier does inside. Maryland had no answer for the senior forward, and that proved to be as important as Nelson’s 31-point night. The Beavers will play four of their next five games in Corvallis, with the lone road trip coming in the form of a game at DePaul.
Can they get hot before leaving the mainland for the Diamond Head Classic in late-December? The schedule sets up for such a run, but then again in recent years Oregon State’s seemingly made a habit of squandering such opportunities. This time around the Beavers have two proven scoring options, and that could make all the difference as Oregon State looks to rack up some wins before the start of Pac-12 play.
Also of note: Oregon State moved to 4-0 in games played with President Barack Obama and his family in attendance.