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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona Wildcats win marquee match-up against No. 6 Duke

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Photo courtesy of Jack White / The Chronicle.

Aaron Gordon blocks a shot by Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon during Arizona’s 72-66 win over the Blue Devils.

NEW YORK — The NIT Season Tip-Off championship game lived up to its hype as No. 4 Arizona defeated No. 6 Duke 72-66 in a back-and-forth slug fest at Madison Square Garden.

Overall the Wildcats (7-0) outshot the Blue Devils (6-2) 48.9 to 43.1 percent and out-rebounded Duke 36-28. The game was tied a total of 12 times and there were nine different lead changes.

Arizona took the lead for good with sophomore forward Brandon Ashley’s bucket to make the score 47-45 with 8:58 left. Arizona went on a 12-3 run over the next 5:59.

Arizona has won its last two meetings with the Blue Devils and improved to 5-4 all time against Duke. The last time the two schools played was the Wildcats’ 93-77 upset over the Blue Devils in the Sweet 16 round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

“For us to get on the plane here and travel about 15 hours tonight, it’s going to be a nice plane ride home,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said, “because I feel good about how we played and what we were able to accomplish.”

The first half closed with a 36-33 Duke lead. Arizona junior guard Nick Johnson shot 1-for-3 from the floor with two points and was off defensively as well, failing to record a steal or block.

However, Johnson picked up his play in the next 20 minutes, adding 13 points to his total (15), plus a pair of blocks and steals. His consistency and ability to hit the big shots in the second half earned Johnson the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.

“I just tried to stay with it,” Johnson said, “I got in some foul trouble in the first half and it kind of got my rhythm a little down, but I just tried to stay with it. T.J. [McConnell] found me on a few plays and I just knocked down the shots.”

A lot of the buzz leading up to this game came from the elite freshmen matchup between Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Duke’s Jabari Parker. While Gordon’s 10 points were bested by Parker’s 19, his seven rebounds and four assists topped Parker’s three and one.

Parker was also 7-for-21 from the field, while Gordon was 4-for-6 and the Arizona freshman had two blocks as well.

“Aaron [Gordon] isn’t going to score 30; he’s not a volume shooter,” Miller said. “He’s a basketball player. He’s a guy you love to have on your team because he’s a great teammate and it seems like everything flows better when he’s out there.”

Sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski was the closest Wildcat to earning a double-double, with 10 points and nine rebounds. He was also a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line.

McConnell hit all six of his foul shots and nearly had a double-double as well, scoring 10 points, assisting eight baskets and pulling down six rebounds. He also added a steal in the first half.

“I just let the game come to me,” McConnell said. “When there was misses I pushed the ball, drag screens to try to get people open. There was makes and I just wanted to get the flow of the offense.”

The Wildcats return to action on their home floor Dec. 3 against Texas Tech (5-2).

“I think we can be special, no question about that,” Miller said. “We have a really good group of kids.”

— Follow Joey Putrelo @JoeyPutrelo

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