Comeback Cats: Arizona rallies to beat Oregon without Ashley
After splitting his pants, Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller said he opted for “Plan B” — a T-shirt and sweat pants.
Despite trailing most of the game, the No. 2 Wildcats (22-1, 9-1 Pac-12) beat Oregon 67-65 in their own version of a “Plan B.”
Thursday’s game was Arizona’s first game this season without sophomore forward Brandon Ashley in the starting rotation.
“It’s a lot easier to split your pants … after a win than a loss,” Miller said.
Freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson defends against Oregon redshirt senior forward Mike Moser during the second half of Arizona's 67-65 win over Oregon at McKale Center on Thursday.
He said it is not realistic to expect a team to work together for five months and to “magically insert players” and still be “that good.”
“It will take some time,” Miller said, “and I believe, given that time, we will improve.”
Arizona trailed by as many as seven points before pulling ahead in the last two minutes.
“I consider that the image of our team,” junior guard Nick Johnson said. “We battled through adversity.”
Much of the focus was on the fallen starter, Ashley. Before the game he received a standing ovation and the ZonaZoo section was chanting his name. He was also featured prominently in the pregame video on the video board, and his picture even appeared on the tickets.
“I believe this was our best victory of the season based on how the game went, what the game means and playing without Brandon,” Miller said.
Johnson had a game-high 18 points, which included making five of six free throws in the final minute.
Oregon (15-7, 3-7), on the other hand, missed three of four free throws in the final minute.
Junior guard T.J. McConnell, who visited Arizona when he was a player at Duquesne University, said the ZonaZoo is the best student section in the country and very distracting during free throws.
“Playing in McKale is such an honor for a team, for a player, that you don’t ever want to lose,” Miller said. “Tonight it was like a group effort of our crowd and our team. We were all resilient in the building, trying to will ourselves.”
McConnell had six points on 2-of-9 shooting, but hit a 3-pointer to give Arizona a 62-60 lead with 1:32 left.
Oregon out-rebounded Arizona 40-35, but the Wildcats had the edge in offensive rebounds, 15-13.
“What looked different was when Oregon missed,” Miller said. “We weren’t as sure about getting the defensive rebound.”
The “Plan B” starter, freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. He also had two blocks and a steal in a season-high 34 minutes of play.
Hollis-Jefferson said he told Ashley that he would try to get as many rebounds as he could.
“I did that and it felt good,” Hollis-Jefferson said.
The UA shot 40 percent from the field, while the Ducks shot 42.6 percent. The Wildcats shot 54.3 percent from the free throw line.
Freshman forward Aaron Gordon had six points and eight rebounds, but was 2-for-11 from the free throw line.
“I’m going to stay true to what I believe,” Miller said. “Aaron Gordon is a better free throw shooter than he is showing, and I believe he is going to hit his stride.”
Sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski had 12 points and seven rebounds and was 4-for-5 from the free throw line.
Arizona had 32 points in the paint compared to 24 for Oregon, but the Ducks had the edge in bench points, 23-11.
Miller was critical of Hollis-Jefferson for some defensive lapses, but said he expects the freshman to get better.
“Rondae will grow over the next couple of weeks with more opportunity,” Miller said.
—Follow James Kelley @JamesKelley520