Freshman forward Stanley Johnson opened up Arizona men’s basketball’s annual McDonald’s Red-Blue Game by winning the slam dunk contest, and his exploits didn’t end there.
Johnson led all scorers with 17 points, grabbed three rebounds and won the slam dunk contest between the legs jam.
“I think he’s a matchup nightmare,” UA senior point guard T.J. McConnell said. “When he gets out there in transition, it’s pretty much like a freight train coming at you. I kind of got out of the way of one, because I didn’t want to end up in the hospital.”
The red team, which featured more veterans, won the scrimmage 53-46, but a couple freshmen led the way in scoring. Freshman center Dusan Ristic scored 14 points and had two rebounds as he and Johnson led the blue team.
“For us, it wasn’t as much a show for the crowd I think as much as it is to give some young players a chance to play in front of a McKale [Center] crowd for the first time,” UA head coach Sean Miller said.
The red team featured McConnell, sophomore forward/guard Elliott Pitts, sophomore forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, freshman forward Craig Victor and junior center Kaleb Tarczewski in the starting lineup.
“I thought it probably was as good as it gets,” McConnell said. “We have a long way to go, what college basketball team doesn’t have a long way to go eight practices in?”
Hollis-Jefferson missed his attempts in the slam dunk contest, but in the scrimmage, he led the red in scoring with 13 points and was 5-for-6 from the field, made his lone 3-point attempt and was 2-for-2 from the foul line.
Victor had 12 points and two steals.
“Craig is aggressive, and he’s physical,” Miller said.
Freshman point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, junior forward Brandon Ashley and junior guard Gabe York were the other starters for the blue team.
Ashley scored seven points and had three rebounds in his first action in front of fans since his season-ending injury at California last year.
“I thought today was really good for Brandon Ashley,” Miller said. “He’s worked his entire offseason to be healthy. He’s back full steam, and he’s practicing well. He didn’t play as well today, but you would almost expect that.”
Ristic arguably out dueled Tarczewski in the battle of 7-footers. Tarczewski scored 11 points and had nine rebounds.
“Dusan is a great basketball player,” Tarczewski said. “He really brings a different type of post play, a European style. He’s a big dude, he’s got long arms and he’s really skilled, so it’s really nice to be able to play against him every day.”
Miller said Ristic played better than he had in practice and has been impressed with Tarczewski.
“Kaleb’s our most improved player,” Miller said. “You didn’t really see it tonight, but in 10 practices, he might be our best player by how consistently he’s played.”
Miller said the scrimmage continued the trend of how every team McConnell has played on this season has won. McConnell had eight points, six assists and three steals.
“I can’t believe in a point guard more than I believe in him,” Miller said.
Former Wildcats Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon were inducted into the ring of honor at halftime. They were unable to attend because due to playing in the NBA.
Attendance was 10,001, a sellout. The upper ring of seats, which are now red, was not available.
Miller said this is only the third time they’ve been in McKale Center since Senior Night last year.
“Obviously, I’d like to thank all of our fans,” Miller said. “It was weird seeing the red seats. They would have obviously been all filled if the fire code would have allowed it.”
Miller said not to read much into the results of the scrimmage, however. The Wildcats’ exhibition opener is Nov. 9 against Cal Poly Pomona, and the season opener is Nov. 14 against Mount St. Mary’s.
“No one has to remind any of us that Oct. 18 is football season,” Miller said. “We’re just beginning. Where we’ll be in a couple of weeks — I think we’ll be in a much better place.”