Arizona is still adjusting to life without their star power forward, Brandon Ashley, who is lost for the season due to foot injury. But in Arizona's 76-54 win over Oregon St, head coach Sean Miller said he saw the team grow.
“We were more confident on offense. We are learning that defensively, minus someone as long as Brandon Ashley is, there are a few things that we have to get better at," Miller said.
One reason Arizona has been able to cope with the loss of Ashley has been the increased production of freshmen Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon. Gordon led Arizona over Oregon St with 17 points, while Hollis-Jefferson chipped in 16.
“If you look at their stats, Rondae and Aaron combined 14‐25, 4-6 at the line, combined for 10 rebounds, 33 points and four assists, three turnovers, three steals and one block," Miller said "For the 60 minutes that they played, they were very productive.”
Gordon keyed in on rebounding as a point of emphasis before the game.
“Every time we go out and play, coach always talks about our identity, and our identity is offensive and defensive rebounding," Gordon said. "I haven’t been blocking out well lately, so I took it upon myself to block out well today.”
Miller also pointed out that Arizona took care of the ball better than it has at previous times this season, and that the Cats' success has largely been derived from that.
"We came into this game wanting eight turnovers or less," Miller said. "We had 15 assists and eight turnovers. If we take care of the ball and out‐rebound on offense and defense that is when we are at our best.”
Oregon State's Roberto Nelson, among the best scorers in the country, was held to just 10 points on 3-12 shooting.
“We knew Roberto Nelson would be more aggressive in the second half," Miller said. "They did a really good job in the second half. We did a good job as a team guarding. Our defense was intact. That’s why we won the game with the margin that we did.”
Junior point guard TJ McConnell credited his teammates witha group effort in containing Nelson.
“The bigs did a great job for us tonight, I have to give them a lot of credit. They helped when we got screened on the ball a lot," McConnell said. "It was a team effort on him and I think we did a good job.”
While Nelson was quiet most of the night, Arizona's Gordon broke out of a recent funk in a big way. The springy freshman shot 8-12 from the field and hit his only three point attempt.
“My defense got me going today, which it usually does," Gordon said after the win. "The three I hit gave me confidence too. I know I’m a capable shooter, and it was nice to see one go down for my confidence.”
Another player that got a dose of confidence was senior Jordin Mayes, who had 9 points in just five minutes of action.
“I felt good out there. I got to the free throw line a few times and was able to hit an open three. It gives me confidence to hit some shots," Mayes said. "I just want to go out there and play basketball, getting my teammates and hitting open shots.”
Overall the win over Oregon St was a big step in the right direction for a team that is still trying to play itself into a rhythm after the roster got shaken up.
“Anytime you can win like this in conference it feels good," McConnell said. "Oregon State is a good team, and I felt we were clicking on offense and defense tonight.”