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. Southern Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

    Mar 5, 2015, 12:00 PM EST

    Karl Cochran (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Can Wofford reach their second straight NCAA tournament?

  2. Vermont honors hospitalized recruit with #JoshStrong shirts (PHOTOS)

    Mar 5, 2015, 10:57 AM EST

    Vermont Athletics Vermont Athletics

    Josh Speidel is still in the hospital as he deals with a serious brain injury stemming from a car accident last month.

  3. Oregon State’s Wayne Tinkle starts five walk-ons on Senior Night

    Mar 5, 2015, 9:51 AM EST

    Wayne Tinkle AP

    The catch: None of them were actually seniors.

  4. Potential NCAA tournament bid thieves bubble teams should be rooting against

    Mar 5, 2015, 8:53 AM EST

    Ryan Boatright (Getty Images) Ryan Boatright (Getty Images)

    These eight teams can steal an automatic bid in conferences that will get at-large bids.

  5. Late Night Snacks: Bubble teams Pittsburgh, LSU and Tulsa suffer home losses

    Mar 5, 2015, 1:22 AM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Neither the Panthers nor the Tigers did themselves any favors Wednesday night, with Pittsburgh’s home loss being the costlier of the two defeats.

  6. Bubble Banter: Why LSU losing is bad news for Texas A&M

    Mar 4, 2015, 11:59 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    All of Wednesday’s relevant bubble info can be found right here.

  7. Joe O’Shea’s off-balance three-pointer forces overtime in Bryant’s double OT win over Sacred Heart (VIDEO)

    Mar 4, 2015, 11:34 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Thanks to O’Shea the Bulldogs advanced to the NEC semifinals, where they’ll take on Robert Morris.

  8. Bonzie Colson continues hot streak as No. 12 Notre Dame wins at No. 16 Louisville

    Mar 4, 2015, 9:38 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Colson and Demetrius Jackson scored 11 second-half points apiece in Notre Dame’s win at Louisville.

  9. Defense turns into instant offense for Ohio State’s Sam Thompson (VIDEO)

    Mar 4, 2015, 9:03 PM EST

    Ohio State v Michigan State Ohio State v Michigan State

    D’Angelo Russell scored 28 to lead the Buckeyes, but none of his points were wilder than the two scored by Thompson on this play.

  10. Semifinalists for Naismith Coach of the Year trophy announced

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:59 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Kentucky head coach John Calipari is one of 15 coaches still in contention for this honor.

  11. Frank Kaminsky, Jahlil Okafor among ten semifinalists for Naismith Award

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:13 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Kaminsky is one of five seniors on the list, and Gonzaga is the only program with two representatives.

  12. ‘First four out’ to receive one-seeds in Postseason NIT

    Mar 4, 2015, 4:20 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    With the higher seeds hosting in the first three rounds of the Postseason NIT, the four one-seeds could potentially not leave campus before the semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

  13. Updated NCAA tournament odds

    Mar 4, 2015, 3:40 PM EST

    Trey Lyles Trey Lyles

    The most recent title odds from Bovada.

  14. Potential Cinderellas you want to win their automatic bid

    Mar 4, 2015, 1:26 PM EST

    Cam Payne (AP Photo) Cam Payne (AP Photo)

    These are the small league favorites that can win a game in the NCAA tournament.

  15. Today is the 25-year anniversary of Hank Gathers’ death

    Mar 4, 2015, 11:51 AM EST

    spt-120203-kimble Getty Images

    Hank Gathers died on the court during the WCC tournament.

  16. Bill Self says Perry Ellis sprained knee, back in ‘a week or so’

    Mar 4, 2015, 10:42 AM EST

    (AP) AP

    Perry Ellis suffered a nasty looking knee injury last night.