Wildcats dam Beavers
For the eighth consecutive game and 22nd time this season, Arizona’s defense held the opposition to under 70 points.
The Wildcats (23-1, 10-1 Pac-12) defeated Oregon State (13-10, 5-6) 76-54 Sunday at McKale Center.
Through two full games, Arizona has overcome the injury to starting forward Brandon Ashley by emphasizing team rebounding and defense.
“We’re not going to be able to replace Brandon; we have to do it as a team,” head coach Sean Miller said. “I believe we can still be a good rebounding team. If you take five guys and block out you can keep the other team off the glass. Tonight we did that.”
Freshman forward Aaron Gordon moves around Oregon State junior forward Eric Moreland during the second half of Arizona's 54-76 win against Oregon State at McKale Center on Sunday.
Despite missing the 6-foot-8 Ashley, Arizona has controlled the paint in its last two games. The Wildcats out-rebounded the Beavers by 15 and out scored them in the paint by 28.
Arizona has tallied 30 offensive rebounds while only giving up 17. The Wildcats’ dominance on the glass has transferred into points, as they outscored the Oregon schools in the paint 72-36.
Sunday, Arizona prevented Oregon State from making a single second-chance bucket.
“That’s basically what Coach talks about before we go out and play,” freshmen forward Aaron Gordon said. “He talks about our identity, and our identity is offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding. I took it upon myself to block out well today.”
Arizona’s go-to scorer, junior guard Nick Johnson, once again had an inconsistent performance.
It wasn’t until Gordon’s low post presences emerged that Arizona began to dominate the paint and pull away. Arizona went on a 14-5 run in the final 6:30 of the first half to take a 10-point lead into the half.
“Aaron and Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] are the two players who have had to adjust more than any other players on our team to playing without Brandon,” Miller said. “Aaron no longer plays any [small forward], he did it the whole year not only in the game, but in practice. And Rondae is now playing more [power forward] than he ever has.“
Gordon and freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson combined to grab 10 rebounds and score 33 points, most of which came in the paint.
Unusual rebounders, such as 6-foot-1 junior point guard T.J. McConnell, also picked up the slack, with six on Sunday. In the two most recent games McConnell has collected five offensive rebounds, uncommon for someone of his position.
“Brandon [brought] length, size and depth,” Miller said. “As a guard sometimes you can almost rely on them to get the rebounds. Now our guards have to get in there and block out.”
The team effort in the paint carried outside and translated into team defense against the Beavers’ backcourt.
One of Oregon State’s most dangerous scorers is senior guard Roberto Nelson. The sharp-shooter finished Sunday’s game with three of his 12 shot attempts.
“The bigs did a good job of helping us,” McConnell said. “They filled the gaps. It was a team effort on Nelson.”
Miller admitted the team is still adjusting to the loss of Ashley. But even after losing Ashley’s size, the Wildcats’ identity of being a physically dominating basketball team that Gordon talked about has not and will not change.
“When you’re a man-to-man [defensive] team like we are, the analogy is like a running football team,” Miller said. “Sometimes you only get 2 or 3 yards a carry but if you stay with what you do well sometimes in the second half it opens up and it opens up some other things.”
—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella