Aaron Gordon. Photo credit Arizona Athletics
Arizona basketball improved to 2-0 on Monday night with a 91-57 victory over Long Beach State (1-1). The Wildcats again used a balanced scoring effort with four players scoring in double figures, led by an impressive showing (16 points, 7-9 shooting) from forward Brandon Ashley. Gabe York once again provided excellent minutes off the bench, hitting his first four attempts from deep to provide a spark late in the first half when Zona essentially put the game away. As is customary for me and for isportsweb, it is time to look beyond the box score and look at both the good and the bad from the win.
Before delving deeper, it is worth mentioning that I think this game could be looked at as almost two different games. For the 15 minutes Arizona was sloppy, did not pay attention to detail, and subsequently let Long Beach State hang around. The last 25 minutes, however, Arizona played a very tight and error-free game, displaying a multitude of reasons one should believe in this team going forward.
Defensive rebounding - For how much size this team has there sure are many instances where their opposition seems to come up with offensive rebounds. This is especially the case when Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski are on the floor together, which is something I cannot figure out. Aaron Gordon did a solid job of cleaning the defensive glass (again) and starting the fast break himself (again), which led to numerous highlight reel finishes by Nick Johnson, but in order to be a dominating defensive team (which AZ has shown flashes of) you must close possessions with a defensive board.
Long Beach State ended the night with 15 offensive rebounds, and although they do have some rugged post players this has been a reoccurring problem for Arizona for the past few years now. I did like what I saw from both Matt Korcheck and Zach Peters on the defensive end when they were in. Korcheck seems to enjoy the bump and grind physical nature of defense, and Peters showed good athleticism contesting shots, but going forward it is unclear how much playing time those two will receive on a night to night basis so it is imperative Ashley and Zeus assert themselves on the glass, especially later this week against San Diego State.
Brandon Ashley’s defensive outing - A small add on here for Ashley. Although he had 7 rebounds, 4 of them were offensive. For a guy with his quickness and athleticism he could easy dominate the defensive boards as well, simply look at Gordon. Rebounding is often based more on instinct than anything coaching wise, so Ashley will need to rapidly improve for the Cats to reach their full potential.
Also, Ashley must do a better job preventing foul trouble. Of all the Arizona players, Ashley seems to always be the guy who picks up cheap fouls away from the ball or from fouling jump shooters. He struggled with foul trouble both last year and earlier this year, and with how explosive he is on the offensive end Arizona simply needs him on the floor.
Jordin Mayes’ first half - I am sure Wildcats nation was thinking “here we go again” after Mayes’ first few possessions Monday night. And for a player with sometimes shaky confidence a good start is always something you wish for, but Mayes once again had another hot and cold game (Thankfully, more towards the former, see THE GOOD section) and he will need to improve his consistency moving forward to ensure that there is not a dramatic dropoff between first and second units and to provide Miller with opportunities to rest TJ McConnell.
Nick Johnson’s halfcourt offensive identity - Before I start this tangent, I will definitely admit this is nitpicking, but it is worth looking into. So far this year (of course, small sample size) Johnson has looked just a little pressed when the game slows down. He has yet to really find his niche in the halfcourt offense and some of his shots seem like they are taken just because he has not has one in awhile.
By no means am I suggesting Johnson is a selfish player, in fact on the contrary I think sometimes he is too passive. He is a nightmare in transition as evidenced in this game, but when he is scoring 12-14 points Arizona has been historically near unbeatable. He contributed 14 points tonight, but nearly all of them were in transition. This will be something I will be watching closely going forward, but being it early in the season there is no reason to overreact yet.
Overall team basketball - 22 assists on 34 baskets. As was the case in the win over Cal Poly, Arizona showed they can beat you from anywhere, with anybody. The 7-17 effort from deep was a byproduct of fantastic ball movement, and at least 4-5 of those misses were wide open shots that would qualify as GREAT looks. If Arizona can continue to manufacture high quality shots, their lack of great (they have some decent ones, York being the only legitimate shooter) shooter will not be as hindering moving forward.
Jordin Mayes’ second half - I am sure i wasn’t alone in cheering just a little bit harder for Mayes in that second half. He FINALLY got a good bounce on a nice floater from the corner of the lane, and then capped two nifty drives with layups late in the half. The 6 points on the night, although not incredible, will hopefully ease the stress on Mayes moving forward into the next few very important weeks. As I said before the season,6-8 points on a nightly basis from Mayes would do this team wonders.
Brandon Ashley’s offensive outing - Since I was a little hard on Ashley in the BAD section, time to show the big man a little love. Ashley was all over the place on offense tonight, displaying (as he always does) his uncanny ability to “get skinny” in the lane and get to the basket from anywhere. He also put in a fluid looking triple in the second half, leaving Arizona fans salivating at the thought of watching him if he can knock that shot down consistently. With San Diego State and their always physical front-line on the horizon, Ashley needs to assert himself more than ever in his next contest.
Gabe York - Nothing negative to say here. He caused a few turnovers, made some great feeds in transition, and was gushing with confidence on offense. Keep it up, young fella.
Arizona’s defensive guard play - Although I believe Mike Caffey was a little overhyped coming into this game, holding him to 6 points on 2-10 shooting to go along with only 2 assists and 4 turnovers shows just how disruptive McConnell, Johnson, and the rest of Arizona’s rangy guards can be on defense. These turnovers routinely led to transition buckets and with the athleticism of the wings for Zona turnovers will be lethal for the opposition.
Arizona’s next contest will be Thursday night at San Diego State. Be on the lookout for a game preview and prediction since that one is a higher profile matchup. Follow me on twitter @afoshie for future links to articles like this one. Thank you for reading and as always, Bear Down.