Skip to content

No. 3 Arizona looks like a national title contender again

Mar 2, 2014, 11:31 PM EST

Getty Images Getty Images

Aaron Gordon led five players in double-figures with 19 points and 15 boards as No. 3 Arizona won their fourth straight game, knocking off Stanford 79-66.

It was the third straight game that the Wildcats have pounded a tournament caliber Pac-12 team, which more or less asserts that whatever had been ailing this team has been figured out.

The difference?

Arizona is pushing the ball more. They are getting out in transition and opening up the floor, which is where freakish athletes like Nick Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon can thrive. They’ve also gotten better defensively, as losing Brandon Ashley has forced Miller to play Gordon exclusively in the front court and give more minutes to Hollis-Jefferson, who is one of the best perimeter defenders that you’ll find.

As a result, the last three games have seen, for this first time this season, Arizona just straight beating the breaks off of opponents. They won at Colorado by 27. They beat Cal in Tucson by 28. They were up 25 on Stanford with eight minutes left.

Are the Wildcats, dare I say, better without Ashley?

Well, no.

Ashley gave them front court depth and allowed them to be capable of using a lineup that could simply overwhelm anyone in the country with their size. What made Arizona so difficult with Ashley is that they were matchup-proof. They could play bigger than the biggest team in the country and matchup with anyone that tried to play four or five perimeter players.

But what losing Ashley has done is forced Miller’s hand. The inability of his forwards to shoot from the perimeter and the corresponding struggles of Johnson turned Arizona into a horrific half court team. Miller had no choice but to open things up a bit more, which is the style that actually better suits his personnel.

Think back to the fall, when all the chatter was about Gordon’s insistence on playing the three this season? Remember when I told you that Arizona would be at their best when Gordon was at the four? It’s his more natural position at this level and this point in his development. He’s even spent time playing the five, with Hollis-Jefferson at the four and Gabe York or Elliot Pitts seeing time on the perimeter.

We’ll have more on this this week, but since the change, Gordon is averaging 18.3 points and 9.0 boards. Hollis-Jefferson has shown the nation why he was one of the most popular players in the Class of 2013. Johnson had snapped out of his slump until Sunday’s 3-for-13 performance.

The Wildcats are different than they were when they still had Ashley available. It’s difficult to call them better than they were before, but they certainly are back to being one of the nation’s most dangerous teams.

And they certainly belong back in the conversation as a National Title contender.

Latest Posts
  1. Well-traveled former Ole Miss guard transfers to a new school

    Jan 25, 2015, 2:30 PM EST

    Auburn Mississippi Basketball AP

    Well-traveled former Ole Miss guard Derrick Millinghaus has found a new home.

  2. Kentucky lands commitment from international Class of 2016 big man

    Jan 25, 2015, 1:21 PM EST

    (Basketball New Zealand) (Basketball New Zealand)

    Kentucky is on the board in the 2016 class with a highly-touted big man from New Zealand.

  3. Former Memphis forward is transferring to Rhode Island

    Jan 25, 2015, 1:00 PM EST

    Kuran Iverson, Greg Lewis AP

    A former four-star prospect is heading to Rhode Island.

  4. Former Miami (OH) point guard now a hot name in the 2015 NFL Draft

    Jan 25, 2015, 12:00 PM EST

    Quinten Rollins, Javarez Willis AP

    A former Miami point guard is finding tremendous success on the football field and is a even being talked about as a first-rounder in the 2015 NFL Draft.

  5. Report: Elite 2016 international big man could decide today between Kentucky, Texas and Villanova

    Jan 25, 2015, 10:10 AM EST

    (Basketball New Zealand) (Basketball New Zealand)

    One of the best big men in the 2016 class could decide between three powerhouse programs on Sunday.

  6. Pregame Shootaround: Coach K goes for win 1,000 against St. John’s; 11 ranked teams in action

    Jan 25, 2015, 9:00 AM EST

    Mike Krzyzewski AP

    Coach K goes for win No. 1,000 against St. John’s and a fun battle of elite freshmen guards in the Big Ten are Sunday’s highlights.

  7. Austin Nichols hits a game-winner, Memphis coach Josh Pastner dances (VIDEO)

    Jan 25, 2015, 1:05 AM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    I feel comfortable saying I’m a better dancer than Josh Pastner. Not by much, though.

  8. Saturday’s Snacks: No. 18 West Virginia, Georgetown win absolute thrillers

    Jan 24, 2015, 11:58 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Get caught up on everything that has happened in college basketball on Saturday.

  9. Northwestern State staff wears special pants for ‘Suits and Sneakers’ game against McNeese State (PHOTO)

    Jan 24, 2015, 11:34 PM EST

    Patrick Netherton Patrick Netherton

    The pants worn by the coaching staff were one of the highlights in Northwestern State’s 92-68 win over McNeese State.

  10. #POSTERIZED: Memphis’ Markel Crawford dunks on Tulane defender (VIDEO)

    Jan 24, 2015, 9:31 PM EST

    Central Florida v Memphis Central Florida v Memphis

    Crawford and his teammates are looking to rebound from the 18-point loss they suffered at Tulsa Wednesday night.

  11. Central Connecticut State beats Wagner on Brandon Peel’s buzzer-beating three (VIDEO)

    Jan 24, 2015, 9:20 PM EST

    CCSU Athletics CCSU Athletics

    Peel finished the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks as the Blue Devils picked up their first win in NEC play.

  12. No. 21 Baylor beats No. 19 Oklahoma, should we be concerned about the Sooners?

    Jan 24, 2015, 8:34 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Baylor really needed this win, but Oklahoma has now lost three of their last four.

  13. Balanced effort moves William & Mary into tie for first in the CAA (VIDEO)

    Jan 24, 2015, 7:20 PM EST

    William & Mary v North Carolina William & Mary v North Carolina

    The Tribe bounced back from a loss at Delaware earlier in the week to move into a tie for first in the CAA.

  14. Slow start dooms No. 9 Iowa State as they lose at Texas Tech

    Jan 24, 2015, 6:46 PM EST

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwrjywuxywyyywu3mjy5mddjotbkn2i1nzqynjq3zdhk AP

    Texas Tech hit its first five three-pointers and led by as many as 19 points in the first half of their 78-73 win over the Cyclones.

  15. No. 11 Kansas makes a statement blowing out No. 17 Texas

    Jan 24, 2015, 4:52 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    “We are still the best team in the Big 12″ — Kansas, on Saturday.

  16. #POSTERIZED: Marquette’s Derrick Wilson with a surprising poster (VIDEO)

    Jan 24, 2015, 3:14 PM EST

    Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 3.10.44 PM

    Wilson dunks all over Georgetown’s Paul White.

  17. Iowa star Aaron White suffers ‘stinger’ in shoulder against Purdue

    Jan 24, 2015, 1:53 PM EST

    Traevon Jackson, Aaron White

    White is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Hawkeyes.