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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Takeaways from McDonald’s Red-Blue Game

Tyler Baker
Layla Nicks / The Daily Wildcat Rick McCollum drives students around the Outer Campus Loop on the Cat Tran Friday Oct. 17, 2014. Rick usually works Thursdays and Fridays.

The annual Red-Blue Game showcased the new renovations in McKale Center and what could be a considerably different product on the court. Men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller’s returnees showed much of the same skill, and the newcomers made an early impact in front of the McKale Center crowd.

Read our final recap of the game: Arizona men’s basketball Red-Blue Game ends with 53-46 win for Red team

Freshmen Dusan Ristic and Stanley Johnson led the Blue team as the top two scorers. Stanley Johnson, a highly touted recruit and likely replacement for Nick Johnson, was expected to stand out, but Ristic was the real surprise.

The 7-footer from Serbia was matched up against junior Kaleb Tarczewski throughout, and Ristic definitely won that battle. Ristic finished with 14 points and two rebounds on 7-8 shooting from the field, while Tarczewski ended up with 11 points and nine rebounds, most of which came from the free-throw line and not against Ristic.

Ristic displayed noticeable touch and fluidity around the basket, which is incredibly rare for an international freshman. He showcased several post moves, such as a hook over his right shoulder and a mini up-and-under move.

While it’s too early to say for sure, Miller may have found a diamond in the rough in Ristic. But, in classic Miller fashion, he downplayed Ristic’s performance after the game.

“Dusan is ahead of the game on offense. … Defensively is where he’s playing catchup,” Miller said.

Stanley Johnson ended up leading all players with 17 points and displayed his physicality on numerous occasions. His 6-foot-7, 245-pound frame punished wing defenders throughout and showed how hard he will be to guard.

There was one play where T.J. McConnell attempted to get in the way of Stanley Johnson on a fast break opportunity. McConnell was called for a foul and ended up on his back on the new McKale Center floor, while Stanley Johnson stayed upright.

“He’s a matchup nightmare,” McConnell said. “When he gets out in transition, it’s pretty much like a freight train coming at you. I kind of got out of the way on one, because I didn’t want to end up in the hospital.”

To put his size into perspective, Stanley Johnson weighs the same as Tarczewski, despite standing 5 inches shorter. In essence, he’s a grown man at the age of 18.

Where the newcomers shined, the returnees showed improvement over last year and played almost nonchalantly.

In his first game action since his season-ending injury against California last year, Brandon Ashley played 20 minutes and scored seven points. In-between a few solid moves, Ashley was quiet overall and seemed to have some jitters. This was likely the reason behind Ashley finishing with more turnovers (four) than made field goals (three). The trio of McConnell, Tarczewski and sophomore forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson led the Red team to victory, combining for 32 of Red’s 53 points.

All three will be counted on this season, and all three showed improvement from last year. Specifically, McConnell and Hollis-Jefferson were impressive.

The fun-loving Hollis-Jefferson was 5-6 from the field and easily could have had more if he wanted to. Hollis-Jefferson could not only be Arizona’s best player but also its most important player.

His importance as a spark plug last season was huge, but that was behind Aaron Gordon. He’ll have to step into that role left by Gordon that includes guarding the best perimeter player, running the floor and finishing with authority.

Video from UATV3:

General Script

Luckily for Hollis-Jefferson, his 3-point stroke should be much improved. He won’t turn into a 3-point specialist but, after shooting thousands of shots this summer, Miller said, his shot looks more fluid.

Add in McConnell’s steady play and it’s clear Arizona can win a national championship this year, health permitting, of course. Miller praised McConnell after he said that, no matter the situation, he trusts the returning point guard at all times.

However, the biggest takeaway from the Red-Blue Game was the incredible depth Miller and company have at their disposal this year. Miller talked about possibly even rotating the starting lineup, which would be far different from last year’s consistent starters.

It’s a bit early to say for sure that this team can go 10 deep, but all indications are that the rotation will be deeper this year.

Miller added the rotation is not yet set, and he’s not sure how or when exactly it would be set.

“I believe we have more balance in our scoring,” Miller said. “Brandon is a double-figure scorer, Kaleb is right on the fringe of being a double-figure scorer, T.J. can get 10 points per game, Gabe [York] can shoot the basketball, Rondae you’ve mentioned. I think we have a balanced attack in our scoring, and it can come from a variety of ways. I would be shocked if we didn’t have four or five players in double figures. … If we’re clicking, that’s how our offense should look.” Just imagine if Nick Johnson and Gordon had stayed. It’s almost scary to think how much more talented this already talented team would be.


Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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