The Arizona Wildcats (26-2, 13-2) avenged their earlier defeat at the hands of the California Golden Bears (18-10, 9-6) with a dominant 87-59 win on Wednesday night in Tucson. Arizona kept the momentum going from the previous road trip as they sprinted out to a 15-point halftime lead, never allowing Cal to get within eight for the remainder of the game.
On the offense-
Arizona’s offense was very efficient once again on Wednesday, capitalizing on both transition and halfcourt opportunities and really sharing the scoring load well.
As a team, the Wildcats notched a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio (18:9), a sign that guys are not only willing to pass, but also that everybody is presenting a threat to score as well. Five guys tallied four or more made field goals, and Gabe York stood alone as the only Wildcat to be out of sync shooting the basketball. He got great looks all night, and given the same looks going forward I fully expect him to knock them down.
On limiting Kravish and Solomon-
In the last matchup with Cal, David Kravish and Richard Solomon combined for 26 points, but more importantly they were able to establish themselves as physical interior presences that controlled the rhythm of the game. In the rematch, however, Arizona was the more physical team from the tip. They forced the Cal duo into early foul trouble and held them to 16 points on 15 field goal attempts.
On Kaleb Tarczewski-
For those of you who prefer to watch Bill Walton-announced games on mute, you probably missed the two-hour long compliment session to Arizona’s birthday big man. Zeus dropped 16 points on a very efficient nine attempts, but more importantly he was able to stay on the floor and avoid foul trouble, anchoring the Cats relentless defense.
Over the past few weeks he has shown the ability to knock down the mid-range jumper, something I haven’t seen him do over the first year and a half in a Wildcats’ uniform. I know it is a small sample size, but given his success at the free throw line this year it is not inconceivable that he can continue to knock down that mid-range jumper and provide some floor spacing going forward.
Lastly, Zeus had multiple instances in this game where he showed vastly improved hands and passing ability. One of the biggest frustrations of mine last season was how Zeus struggled to hang onto the ball through contact, but as this season has worn on he has shown he has improved substantially in both handling and converting difficult passes.
On Arizona’s ball security-
Arizona did a great job protecting the ball for the second straight game, and predictably produced two of their best offensive outputs of the season. T.J. McConnell has been right at the center of it all, as his lone turnover of the past three games came at the end of the half as he tried to force a pass to a corner shooter.
As McConnell goes, so go the Wildcats. He has done a fantastic job all year of setting people up for easy buckets, and the way he spoonfed Aaron Gordon during the Colorado game seems to have given AG some momentum heading into the stretch run.
On Arizona’s defense-
The most important aspect of this game to me was how committed Arizona was on the defensive end. You can see guys are 100% dedicated to defending every possession regardless of whether or not their man has the ball. Because of this, Arizona was able to create fastbreak opportunities off deflections, and once in the open floor Arizona put on a clinic of fastbreak offense. Given Arizona’s past struggles in the halfcourt, it is critical that the Cats use their defense to create offense for themselves as they head to postseason play.
Another great thing to see was the continued effort Arizona was making for 50/50 balls. You could sense that there was an edge to this team in the opening minutes, and they were able to sustain their effort and intensity for 40 minutes. Elliot Pitts laid out for a loose ball to gain Arizona an extra possession before the halftime buzzer, and Nick Johnson made one of the best all-around plays I have ever seen, tracking down and blocking Justin Cobbs’ layup from behind only to lead the break and assist to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for a highlight reel dunk on the other end.
On Arizona free throws-
Hate to even mention this for fear of jinxing things, but Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson combined to go 9-10 from the free throw stripe in the win. Words can’t even describe how huge of a lift it would be to this team to have both of these guys (mostly AG) shooting a respectable clip going forward, as it would force Pac-12 defenses to completely change the way they defend the duo.
On the Stanford matchup-
I look forward to a quality basketball game this weekend, as Stanford has the athletes, length, and offensive ability to play a lot of teams close. With a share of the Pac-12 title on the line, I expect Arizona to come out focused and prepared.
Stanford is a team trying to play their way into a solid at-large bid, so it would not surprise me to see them within striking distance in the second half, but given how well Arizona has looked in the past two games I would have to think they are peaking at the right time and should clinch at least a share of the Pac-12 regular season title. Sunday marks the final home game for Arizona this season, so be sure to be loud and send these guys off into the final week in style.