Gordon scores career high despite free throw woes in Arizona Wildcats' win over Southern
Freshman forward Aaron Gordon scored a career high 21 points and laughed after No. 1 Arizona beat Southern 69-43, but he didn’t sound happy.
Gordon, who led all scorers, also had four rebounds and two assists but was 4-for-10 from the free-throw line for the Wildcats (12-0).
“[Gordon] played very well tonight, especially offensively. The free throws can’t become mental for him. He’s working at it, though,” head coach Sean Miller said. “He was much better in the second half by being more efficient at the line. It was a deceptive 21 points [Thursday night] because I feel like he could’ve had 25 points.”
Miller and Gordon said the freshman made 85 of 100 free throws before the game, and Gordon said he is not worried and that he will improve.
“My shot is fine; I feel like my mechanics are good,” Gordon said. “I think that I just need to pick a spot on the rim and just go with it. I’ve been thinking about it too much.”
Some of the loudest cheers on the night came when Gordon made three free throws in a row, and fans also cheered him on before he took free throws.
“I think it’s funny; I think it’s hilarious,” Gordon said. “It’s pretty much a realization that I’m not making any free throws; you get a standing ovation when you make a free throw. It made me laugh; I know we have great fans that are supportive.”
Gordon had the most points in his college career, but he wasn’t happy with four rebounds. The freshman’s previous scoring high was 19 against Texas Tech four games ago.
“Scoring’s always good, but I didn’t rebound well enough at all,” Gordon said. “I pride myself on rebounding and to have a rebounding performance like that … doesn’t make me feel like I had a good game.”
Arizona was without starting center Kaleb Tarczewski, who sprained his ankle at Michigan on Saturday. Miller said without Tarczewski, every player has to move a position up, like Gordon playing the four.
“You can see our size around the basket without Kaleb isn’t the same,” Miller said. “Everybody on this team has to be locked in and ready to contribute. If guys can’t be out there for whatever reason, other players have to be ready to play and have to embrace that role. We have to adjust to not having Kaleb right now, but we are capable.”
Miller said Tarczewski is “day-to-day” and that he has a history with injuries to that ankle, but he said he hopes that not having to go to class will help him.
“Kaleb is a big body down low,” junior guard Nick Johnson said. “He takes up a lot of space, as far as rebounding and limiting second shots and [is] really our rim protector.”
Johnson scored 17 points and had four rebounds and two assists, and sophomore forward Brandon Ashley had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Wildcats shot 46 percent, while holding the Jaguars (3-8) to 34 percent from the field. Miller was impressed that the Wildcats only had eight turnovers.
“No game will be perfect, and I was worried for a lot of reasons. One was a few of our guys had finals today, and others had papers due this week,” Miller said. “Another reason was the absence of Kaleb inside. I’m happy that we got the win, and I’m happy that we didn’t have a lot of turnovers.”
Gordon downplayed the distraction of finals week.
“Once you get on the court, all the distractions need to leave, so I felt the same,” Gordon said. “It’s just a matter of me getting the rebounds.”
The UA wraps up nonconference play against NAU on Monday at 8 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Networks.
—Follow James Kelley @jameskelley520