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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona men’s basketball bounces back, cruises 73-49 past ASU

Arizona+forward+Rondae+Hollis-Jefferson+%2823%29+dunks+the+ball+during+Arizonas+73-49+win+against+ASU+in+McKale+Center+on+Sunday.
Rebecca Noble

Arizona forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (23) dunks the ball during Arizona’s 73-49 win against ASU in McKale Center on Sunday.

Arizona men’s basketball shook up the lineup, and the Wildcats returned to their winning ways in a comfortable 73-49 win over ASU to open up Pac-12 Conference play.

After a 12-day layoff, No. 8 Wildcats (13-1, 1-0 Pac-12) beat the Sun Devils on Sunday at home to rebound from their first loss of the season, a 71-67 upset at UNLV.

Usual starters forward Stanley Johnson and guard Gabe York began the game on the bench, replaced by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Elliott Pitts.

“You want to reward guys that practice hard, and Elliott’s never started and Rondae willingly gave up that position, and we just wanted to start off with a different group that has done things the right way,” UA head coach Sean Miller said. “That’s not a slight to Gabe York or Stanley Johnson; it’s not like they did anything wrong. And who we start the next game, I’m not sure.”

Hollis-Jefferson, who scored 13 points and had eight rebounds, admitted that it is nice hearing his named called before the game saying, “Who doesn’t like that?” but also said starting didn’t change his mindset.

“Coming off the bench and starting, it’s all the same,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “You’ve got to come with a winner’s mentality.”

Hollis-Jefferson, Johnson and forward Brandon Ashley tied for a game-high 13 points apiece.

“We have a very unselfish team, so we all look to make each other better on the court, and we did a good job doing it,” Ashley said.

This the first time this season that Miller has changed the starting lineup.

Johnson also had seven rebounds to go with two assists and one steal in his first time coming off the bench in his collegiate career.

“In the second half, I thought he lost his concentration a little bit, and you could see that, but that’s kind of where he is right now,” Miller said about Johnson. “But his intent is better than it’s ever been. He’s practicing better, and he’s a far better player all-around right now than he was, let’s say, a month or so ago.”

Miller said Johnson, who was the high school MaxPreps National Player of the Year last season, has done a “really good job of being coachable” and that he didn’t sense any resentment from the benching. Johnson started the second half.

“You can tell I have no ill feeling toward anything that he did,” Miller said. “He played an excellent game.”

Arizona held ASU forward Savon Goodman to two points. Goodman, who averaged 15.8 points per game going into Sunday, had two more fouls than points.

“I give Arizona a lot of credit,” Goodman said. “They did a great job defensively against us, and they stuck to their plan.”

The Sun Devils averaged 73.5 points per game before Sunday. The UA held ASU to 32.6 percent shooting — 27.3 percent in the second half — and 29.4 percent from beyond the arc.

“That’s an excellent defensive performance by us,” Miller said. “I believe that was the difference in the game.”

In its last game, Arizona gave up a season-high 71 points to UNLV. The last time it gave up more than 70 points was the 75-71 loss to UCLA in the 2014 Pac-12 tournament championship game on March 15.

“For a team to score 70 on us, it’s embarrassing for our coach — he doesn’t like that — he takes pride in defense; that’s the main thing he talks about,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “In practice, it was pretty tough for us. ‘Close out!’ all that extra stuff, we had to do it and some; so, it felt good to go out there and play good defense.”

Ashley said the UNLV loss, which ended Arizona’s 39-game win streak in nonconference regular season games, refocused the team.

“Losing to UNLV was a good thing for our team in the fact that it really made us refocus and realize that even though we’re a talented team, we’re not invincible,” Ashley said.

Miller said Ashley, who had three rebounds and one steal to go along with his game-high 13 points in 24 minutes, has been Arizona’s best player since the UNLV loss.

“Brandon Ashley in particular, his response from the UNLV games was terrific — what you’d expect from a veteran and a high character kid like him,” Miller said. “He came back from the break very, very focused and determined.”

Arizona led by as much as 25 points for a total of 38 minutes and 32 seconds.

“That’s how you want to play basketball,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “It’s a great feeling inside; I loved it.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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