Big men on frontcourt lead Arizona basketball
Arizona basketball’s frontcourt lost two NBA draft picks, but the Wildcats’ corps of big men required no rebuilding.
Through eight games, No. 2 Arizona is fourth in the country in rebound margin, tied for seventh in field goal percentage defense with 35.3 percent, 17th in blocked shots per game with 6.7 and 26th in blocks with 47.
Freshman forwards Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson joined sophomore forward Brandon Ashley and sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski in Arizona’s frontcourt rotation.
“We picked up a lot of skill this year,” Ashley said.
Tyler Baker / The Daily Wildcat UA sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski rebounds a missed Texas Tech shot on Tuesday at the McKale Center.
The UA lost two players to the NBA draft, 2012-13 senior Solomon Hill was the 23rd overall pick and went to the Indiana Pacers and Grant Jerrett, a freshman last year, was selected 40th by the Portland Trailblazers. Plus, junior Angelo Chol transferred to San Diego State.
Tarczewski said the sophomores’ year of experience helps them and that the addition of Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson makes the frontcourt quicker.
“I think it’s just a different look,” Ashley said. “I wouldn’t say we’re any less talented than we were last year.”
The first four big men that Arizona plays are freshmen or sophomores, and the sixth option for front court players so far this year, freshman forward and transfer Zach Peters, has only played three minutes fewer than junior forward Matt Korcheck. Peters, who transferred from Kansas, was limited in the preseason as he recovered from a series of concussions.
Ashley said the Wildcats’ big men are versatile.
“Aaron [Gordon], Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson], me, even Zach [Peters] can do some different things on the perimeter, so I think that helps us out a lot,” Ashley said.
This season, Ashley is averaging 26.8 minutes and 11.9 points and has 55 rebounds, six blocks and six steals in eight starts. Last year, Ashley averaged 7.5 points per game on the season.
Gordon averages a team-leading 13 points per game and is first in rebounds with 73, 18 more than second-place Ashley. He is also second on the team with 13 points a game and 11 blocks.
“He’s continuing to improve,” head coach Sean Miller said after Tuesday night’s win over Texas Tech. “And the one thing you don’t worry about with Aaron [Gordon] is his work ethic. He’ll put the work in.”
Tarczewski is averaging 24.8 minutes and 8.9 points and has 52 rebounds and 14 blocks in seven starts and eight games. Last season, he averaged 6.6 points and had 23 blocks through 35 games.
“I’ve really worked on my footwork in the post, down there, but a little bit on my jump shot,” Tarczewski said. “It’s gonna relieve the pressure down low. [I want to] not just be a low post scorer and also try to be a little bit more explosive, a little bit more athletic.”
Arizona’s sixth man, Hollis-Jefferson, has 19 rebounds and is averaging 8.8 points.
Ashley and Tarczewski said the addition of junior point guard T.J. McConnell makes the big men better.
“I like to kind of call him a ‘little blessing,’” Tarczewski said. “He’s a great basketball player, he competes every day and he’s really going to make it easier on everyone on the team because of the facilitator he is.”
The undefeated Wildcats’ backcourt is thriving as well. Junior guard Nick Johnson is the reigning Pac-12 player of the week, and national media has raved about McConnell.
“I think, honestly, we have so much talent in every position this year,” Korcheck said. “There’s so much potential.”
—Follow James Kelley @jameskelley520