The #4 Arizona Wildcats (24-2, 11-2) survived another test from the Utah Utes (17-9, 6-8) Wednesday night as they held on for a 67-63 overtime victory in Salt Lake City. Arizona continued their string of close games since the loss of Brandon Ashley, but this particular win offered some positive building points for the short-term future.
Sean Miller hit the nail on the head when he mentioned that every game going forward would be a challenge due to the lack of explosiveness on the offensive end.
But, once again, Arizona was able to make just enough plays to hold on for a win. I was very nervous heading into this road trip as both Utah and Colorado offer strong home court advantages, but Arizona did a great job of weathering the early storm and controlling both the game and the crowd early on. The Cats will need to do much of the same as they head to Boulder to face a chippy Colorado team that is looking to back up Xavier Johnsonís bold comments.
On Gabe York-
There you have it, folks. The first half served as a prime example of what York can do when he is seeking his shot.
I honestly would be ecstatic to see York shooting 8-10 times per game going forward, for better or for worse. The upside when he is clicking is great, while the times he struggles would not hinder the Cats as much due to their team-wide offensive problems.
The best course of action for this year would be to feed York as much as possible (within reason) going forward, much like the way Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski were down the stretch last year. As postseason tournament play came around last season, the two freshmen bigs were able to draw from their previous experiences to really give Arizona an added dimension, something that I think could apply perfectly to York.
On Nick Johnson-
Good to see the clutch version of Nick Johnson resurface when called upon.
Johnson had stumbled a bit in recent weeks, maybe due to overusage, but he responded with two huge jump shots down the stretch in regulation to keep Utah from pulling away. Couple this with the fact that he played a large role in holding Utahís duo of Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge to 19 combined points and you have the NJ that belongs in the conversation for Pac-12 POY.
Going forward, it may be best to rest NJ as much as possible and allocate some of his minutes to the trio of Elliot Pitts, Jordin Mayes and York. The short-term performance of the team may take a hit, but it would really enhance Arizonaís chances of success come March.
On Aaron Gordon-
Gordonís month-long cold spell continued Wednesday night as he recorded three points on three shots before fouling out with about eight minutes to go. This marked the first time all year Gordon has fouled out, and admittedly he was the victim of a few very tough calls.
While he was in the game he joined Johnson in limiting Utahís dynamic scoring duo, but his continued offensive struggles leave me wondering what we should expect going forward. It seems like AG has dropped to about 6th in the offensive pecking order, but I find it hard to believe he could perform any worse going forward.
That may sound harsh, but I mean that in a positive way because Gordon is simply too talented and too good of a teammate to not figure something out. As the season wears on I have full faith that Gordon will continue to be a nightly double-digit scorer as well as a constant defensive force. As I have mentioned before, his teammates still continue to support him every step of the way, and I have to believe he is due for a nice uptick in offensive production in the near future.
On Rondae Hollis-Jefferson-
I am just so impressed by how RHJ continues to improve on a daily basis. Every time I watch him play I notice more and more how much he truly impacts the game. Although not a true offensive threat, RHJ was able to use elite athleticism and timely instincts to essentially will Arizona to a win in the overtime period. He was the last member of the trio that basically shut down Wright/Loveridge, and this was coming on the heels of a very impressive second-half effort against Jermaine Marshall of ASU.
The rapid progression of RHJ has probably been the brightest bit of news for Arizona since the loss of Ashley. Gordon, Johnson and York are due for some loud scoring outputs soon enough, and once they begin to produce both efficiently and consistently again I expect RHJ to thrive even more, due to his ability to make plays and find the open man.