Scouting report: No. 1Arizona
Game info: 11 a.m. Saturday at McKale Center (14,545 capacity).
TV: Pac-12 Networks (J.B. Long and Don MacLean).
Radio: 950-AM KJR (Bob Rondeau and Jason Hamilton).
Coach: Sean Miller is 109-43 (.717) his fifth season with the Wildcats and 229-90 (.718) in 10 years a Division I head coach. Prior to joining Arizona on April 6, 2009, he spent five seasons at Xavier where he had four 20-win seasons and made four NCAA tournament appearances. Miller was 120-47 (.719) with the Muskateers. Born in Beaver Falls, PA, Miller, 45, played at Pittsburgh (1987-91).
Prediction: Picked to finish first in a preseason poll in the Pac-12 by media who cover the conference. The Wildcats received 21 of 23 first-place votes.
Series: Arizona leads 46-28 in a series that began Dec. 29, 1964. Washington is 7-28 in Tucson, Ariz. UW coach Lorenzo Romar is 13-12 against the Wildcats. Miller is 4-5 against the Huskies.
Last meeting: Solomon Hill had 19 points and Mark Lyons added 14 and No. 12 Arizona pulled away in the second half for a 70-52 win on Feb. 20, 2013 at the McKale Center. After an 18-18 tie, Arizona finished the half on a 15-7 run to take a 33-25 lead into halftime. Early in the second half, everything spiraled out of control for the Huskies. Arizona led by as many as 22 points. Washington shot 1 of 11 on three-pointers and shot 30.8 percent from the field.
Previous game: Arizona destroyed Washington State (video highlights above) in Thursday’s Pac-12 opener 60-25. It was the fewest points for the Cougars since 1938. WSU converted just 9 of 45 (20 percent) from the field. Arizona also crushed WSU 42-28 on the glass.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
— Nick Johnson doesn’t get the national attention of some of his high-profile teammates, but he’s straw that stirs the drink at Arizona. He leads the Wildcats in scoring (15.4 points per game) and second in assists (2.4). Johnson was an honorable mention selection to the Pac-12 all-defensive team last season and he’ll vie for the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
Johnson will defend C.J. Wilcox, which should be an entertaining matchup. Wilcox scored 15 points in their last meeting, but he had to work for every shot.
At 6-3, Johnson has amazing athleticism. He’s exceptionally quick and explosive. He reportedly has a 45-inch vertical leap.
— Add Aaron Gordon to Washington’s list of the ones that got away. Actually, he’d be second on that list behind Terrence Jones. But the Huskies never had to face Jones. On Saturday, they’ll face the guy who might have led them in this game. The 6-9 freshman forward was the Huskies’ top recruiting target for the past 3-4 years. Romar envisioned building a team around the super-athletic Gordon and making him the central figure in Washington’s high-post offense. However, Gordon chose Arizona among suitors that included Oregon and Kentucky.
Gordon leads the Wildcats with a 7.8 rebounding average and he’s third on the team averaging 12.0 points. He’s amazing on fast breaks and finishes at the rim better than anybody. He’s a good defender who averages 1.1 blocks per game. He’s an all-hustle, all-effort guy and ultra-competitive. The weakness in his game has always been at the free throw line where he’s shooting at a 45.3 percent clip.
— There was outside concern whether Gordon and Brandon Ashley, a 6-8 forward, could co-exist, but so far there’s been nothing but harmony. Winning will do that. Still, adding Gordon the lineup hasn’t hurt Ashley. His scoring (12.1 points per game), rebounding (7.1) and minutes (28.2) are up from last season. Ashley isn’t as explosive as Gordon, but he’s been a better shooter (53.3% FG and 72.7% free throws). He tallied 18 points against Michigan.
— T.J. McConnell is the pass-first point guard Miller has always coveted. The former Duquesne standout sat out last season after transferring. He ranks 17th nationally with 6.2 assists per game and he leads Arizona with 1.7 steals per game. McConnell is on the Cousy Award watch list.
— Seven-foot sophomore Kaleb Tarczewski is the anchor in Arizona’s big, imposing front line. He missed two games due to an ankle injury, but returned Thursday. He averages 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. He also averages 10.4 points.
— Freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is akin to the fifth Beattle. On most Pac-12 teams, he’d be a starter if not a star. At Arizona, the 6-7 freshman forward is the sixth man, who averages 8.7 points and 5.3 rebounds.
— Sophomore reserve guard Gabe York is a three-point specialist and Arizona’s best shooter behind the arc (43.1 percent).
— There’s a steep decline in production after Arizona’s top seven. The rest of the reserves are a bit of a mystery partly because they’ve been inconsistent and their playing time has been sporadic.
— One of Arizona’s few glaring weaknesses is its 67.2 percent free throw shooting. Three prominent Wildcats (McConnell, Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson) shoot fewer than 67 percent at the line.
— Arizona is one of just eight undefeated teams in Division I and has been ranked No. 1 in both national polls the past four weeks.
— The Wildcats have won the rebounding battle in each of its 14 games. They average 40.3 boards, which ranks third nationally.
— After Thursday’s dismantling of Washington State, Arizona is allowing opponents 54.4 points per game (third nationally) and shoot 36.2 percent (sixth nationally) from the field.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
C – Kaleb Tarczewski, 7-0, 235, So., 10.2 ppg., 6.4 rpg., 60.3 FG%
F – Aaron Gordon, 6-9, 225, Fr., 12.0, 7.8, 1.4 apg.
F – Brandon Ashley, 6-8, 230, So., 12.1, 7.1, 53.3 FG%
G – Nick Johnson, 6-3, 200, Jr., 15.4, 3.6, 2.4 apg.
G – T.J. McConnell, 6-1, 195, Jr., 6.6, 3.8, 6.2 apg.
FIVE QUESTIONS …
for Arizona Daily Star beat writer Bruce Pasco
1. Not that it really matters because they’re so balanced, but who is Arizona’s MVP right now?
Nick Johnson. He’s their leading scorer, a pretty good shooter and is evolving into a go-to role, hitting a really key three against Duke late in that game. Plus he also is the top perimeter defense and very much a glue guy with this team. He orchestrated a duplex rental for seven of the players so they would live together.
2. Been a lot of talk about scoring is up in the Pac-12, but Arizona held Washington State to 25 points in the conference opener and allows just 54.5 points per game. What makes the Wildcats defense so good?
They’re just really good at all five positions, athletic and tough-minded. Johnson guards the opposing team’s best perimeter player — I believe he harassed C.J. Wilcox a bit last year — while T.J. McConnell is a scrappy aggressive defender who likes to lunge for steals, to the point where Sean Miller had to tell him not to gamble so much. Then they have two really long, athletic forwards in Aaron Gordon and Brandon Ashley. Gordon is a remarkable defender for a freshman; he even helped handle Jabari Parker and Glenn Robinson III. Ashley is much improved on the defensive end, as is 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski. Off the bench, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a spidery and aggressive defender too.
3. Got to be a weakness with this team. Name one or two areas of concern for coach Sean Miller.
Their guard depth is shaky and they don¹t have a consistent knockdown shooter outside. They are hoping Gabe York is the answer to both of those issues but York has been a bit up and down so far, though he’s much improved over last year. They can compensate for a lack of depth up front because they are so versatile there — Gordon can play 3 or 4, and so can Hollis-Jefferson. But in the backcourt there is just York and Jordin Mayes, whose minutes and production have shrunk dramatically this season as a senior.
4. Aaron Gordon doesn’t have the eye-popping statistics as some of the other high-profile freshman, but everyone says he’s one of the best newcomers in the country. What have you seen?
His “makeup,” or whatever you want to call it, is off the charts. He’s very mature and approaches every game with the same intensity, whether it’s Duke or Northern Arizona. He’s also very good defensively and on the boards. The reason his scoring numbers are low is that he gets most of his production on dunks and layups and cleaning up around the rim. He isn’t a great shot-creator yet but UA doesn’t need him to be. He’s also struggled to hit free throws which keeps his scoring numbers down but that seems to be largely mental.
5. Games between Arizona and Washington have been pretty good recently. Who do you think wins Saturday? Why?
Hard to pick against Arizona anymore. I thought Duke and Michigan would beat them. I also think they can win this one because they are pretty good in the open court too. Even though they are big they have pretty good team speed, so I’m not sure Washington has a huge advantage there. Getting up early to face a team that just received a huge boost of confidence at ASU is an issue but it also probably served to alert them that this game may not be easy.