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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Arizona improves leaps and bounds from first Oregon State match up

Arizona+forward+Brandon+Ashley+shoots+the+ball+well+over+the+reach+of+Oregon+State+guard+Malcolm+Duvivier+during+the+second+half+of+Arizonas+57-34+win+against+Oregon+State+in+McKale+Center+on+Friday.
Kyle Hansen

Arizona forward Brandon Ashley shoots the ball well over the reach of Oregon State guard Malcolm Duvivier during the second half of Arizona’s 57-34 win against Oregon State in McKale Center on Friday.

Arizona men’s basketball’s 58-56 loss at Oregon State happened only three weeks ago, but it feels like it was months ago.

The No. 6 Wildcats (20-2, 8-1 Pac-12) pounded the Beavers 57-34 to not only get revenge for that embarrassing loss, but to win their 34th straight home game, extend their overall win streak to six games and get to the 20 win mark.

Arizona’s a much different team than the one that lost in Corvallis, Ore. They look like a No. 1 seed.

They imposed their will on the Beavers, holding them to 34 points — around what a team normally scores in a half. Actually, the Wildcats scored 33 in the second stanza on Friday.

“We really try to focus on what we do,” Arizona forward Brandon Ashley said. “If they really do like to try and slow us down, we kind of want to speed them up a little bit and we want to get them to our tempo and force turnovers, get out into fast break and get some easy buckets that way.”

Arizona forced 16 turnovers and converted those into 18 points.

“Our defense was great tonight,” McConnell said.

At Oregon State, the Wildcats were stymied by OSU’s zone and seemed destined to lose. After the game, Arizona coach Sean Miller said the Wildcats were selfish on defense and was worried about their ball and player movement.

“Well obviously playing in front of our crowd, I thought we had more energy than when we played there,” Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell said. “Their zone when we played there, we just stood there, passing around the perimeter and pretty much playing into their hands.”

Miller said having conquered the Beavers’ zone and their boring, slow down style, will help them come Pac-12 Championships and NCAA tournament time.

“It gives you a sense of comfort that you have played 80 minutes, maybe 120 by the time you get to Las Vegas, of a zone that’s aggressive, disciplined and good,” Miller said.

Arizona was its old self again on Friday night, getting 37 rebounds compared to OSU’s 27. At Oregon State, the Wildcats were out-rebounded 32-26.

“You just kind of have to focus in,” said Ashley, who had a game-high 12 points and six rebounds, “you can’t let them lull you to sleep or anything like that. You definitely got to stay focused for the whole possession, and when the end of the possession comes, you got make sure you hit the boards hard.” 

After Oregon State guard Gary Payton II was dominant in the first leg of their season series, the Wildcats held OSU’s leading scorer to six points on 3-for-13 shooting. Arizona made Payton II, who was averaging 13.2 points per game, look like another lame sequel.

Arizona is playing like they should with a fifth-year point guard. McConnell got pretty close to achieving the seldom seen steals and points triple-double in just 30 minutes of play.

McConnell had eight steals, scored seven points, six assists and a block.

“Arizona is tough,” Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle said. “McConnell is my player of the year. He is everything to his team.”

Miller agreed with Pac-12 color commentator Bill Walton that McConnell is the best player in the conference so far this season.

“You can come to a lot of games in McKale, for the next 50 years and very seldom will you see a player have eight steals in one game and he only played 30 minutes,” Miller said. “He was dominant on the defensive end and I would say [forward] Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] was as well.”

Naturally, as a pass-first point guard, McConnell, dished credit to Ashley.

“It’s not a bad day at the office, but we won and that’s all I care about,” McConnell said. “I gotta credit this guy [motions towards Ashley] for most of my assists. He’s playing as well as anyone in the country right now and as a team, we have a long way to go, so we’re just going to get ready for Arizona State.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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