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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Analysis column: Arizona starts the best five and nabs impressive win

Point guard T.J. McConnell stole the show for Arizona men’s basketball at Oregon, but the story of the game was the new starting lineup. In their 80-62 win at Oregon, forwards Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson started together for the No. 7 Wildcats (14-1, 2-0 Pac-12).

Arizona jumped out to an early 11-point lead in a hostile environment. It wasn’t that long ago the Wildcats would start games slowly, but with their best five players starting the game, they looked tough to beat.

Johnson scored 14 points, grabbed seven rebounds and recorded one steal and Hollis-Jefferson scored 13 points, had nine rebounds and two steals.

As Arizona deployed two of the best wings in the country together, they took an 11-point lead in the first five minutes and led by as much as 18.

Oregon (11-4, 1-1), depleted from natural loses and the rape scandal, is not the same squad that upset the Wildcats last year in Eugene, Ore. but Matthew Knight Arena is a tough place to play. The Ducks are 68-13 all time at the Matt and the UA had never won there. Last year’s Elite Eight team lost there, as did the 2013 Sweet 16 squad.

With Arizona dominating on the wings, that opened up a chance for someone like McConnell to shine and he did. He scored 21 points, his new UA career-high for points, on 9-for-14 shooting, dished out three assists and hauled in five rebounds.

Center Kaleb Tarczewski also benefited, earning a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Had he taken more than seven shots he would have gotten more points obviously, but the team didn’t need it.

Power forward Brandon Ashley, who had 10 points and two rebounds, will benefit from the dynamic duo of wings playing more together. After getting four fouls, he was limited on Thursday night, so his numbers were lower than what they will be.

The 69 points from the starters helped offset a slightly off night for guard Gabe York, who scored seven points on 2-for-4 shooting, and the loss of guard Elliott Pitts. In 11 minutes, Pitts scored zero points and only took two shots before leaving the game.

1290 AM reported that Pitts left the arena to get his hand x-rayed.

Arizona was able to overcome its poor 3-point shooting to win pretty comfortably. Oregon threatened, getting within a couple points a few times, but the Wildcats led for 39:21 of the 40 total minutes, and the closest the Ducks got was when the score was 0-0.

The Wildcats were shooting 38 percent from deep going into the game. However, Arizona’s poor perimeter shooting didn’t matter against the Ducks.

Arizona’s defense was stout, holding Oregon to 36 percent from the field and 20 percent from beyond the arc. The Ducks scored 62 points, which will hurt their previous season average of 78.8 per game.

Arizona held UO guard Joseph Young to 12 points, an Oregon high, but behind McConnell, Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson. Young averaged 20.1 points per game in 14 contests.

For the first 14 games of the season, UA’s starting lineup has been Johnson or Hollis-Jefferson. For Oregon, UA head coach Sean Miller made a move reminiscent of the Old Paso tacos commercial that asked “how do you decide between crunchy and soft tacos?”

In the ad, a family debated between soft or hard tacos, even employing a spinning wheel until a little girl suggested “why don’t we have both?”

Miller went with both and the result was mouth watering for UA fans.

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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