Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats’ Aaron Gordon plays best game but knows he must be better

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PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)


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ArizonaLogo opp.Southernlogo

Twelve games into his Arizona Wildcats career, Aaron Gordon finally eclipsed the 20-point mark Thursday night against Southern. He finished with 21 and led Arizona in productivity rating for the first time this season in the Wildcats’ 69-43 victory at McKale Center.

If his rebounding (only four in 29 minutes) and free-throw shooting (1-of-6) were better, Gordon would have been Derrick Williams-esque.

“It was a deceptive 21 points tonight because I feel like he could’ve had 25 or 30 points with his free throws,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.

In Williams’ freshman season four years ago, he had games with 28, 25 and 24 points by the 12th game. Of course, this year’s No. 1-ranked Wildcats are more balanced from one to seven in the rotation than Sean Miller’s first team in 2009-10. Williams, however, was also a decent (not spectacular) free-throw shooter as a freshman, making 68.1 of his attempts.

After the Southern game, Gordon is shooting 43.9 percent (25 of 57) from the free-throw line. Williams went to the line much more often as a freshman, attempting 7.5 free throws a game. Gordon is averaging only 4.8 attempts and has failed to go to the line in two of Arizona’s last four games (against UNLV and Michigan). In the other two against New Mexico State and Southern, Gordon has made only 5 of 16 from the stripe.


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Gordon could have topped the 20-point mark against Texas Tech on Dec. 3 but finished with 19 after making only 4-of-12 shots from the free-throw line.

Gordon said in the postgame press conference that before the game he tried 100 free throws and made 85. If Gordon made 85 percent of his free throws in games to this point, he would be about 48 of 57 from the line instead of 25 of 57. That’s 23 more points. His scoring average would be 14.8 points, challenging Nick Johnson’s team-high 15.7 average, instead of 12.8.

“I know I’m going to continue to improve and I’m improving as we speak,” Gordon said.

Miller is not concerned about Gordon’s free-throw shooting percentage at this point; his focus is getting the most out of Gordon’s rebounding ability and making things happen.

As the No. 1-ranked team playing an inferior team, the Wildcats are not consumed by the opposition. They are playing themselves. With that being the case, Arizona struggled more than Miller would have liked. Kaleb Tarczewski (ankle) did not play which affected Arizona’s inside presence and caused a domino effect in terms of size at each position.

Gordon moved from wing to power forward, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson started on the wing and Nick Johnson alternated between the wing and shooting guard positions. The reduction in size resulted in Arizona outrebounding Southern by only six (39-33) after the Wildcats were the No. 2 team in the nation with a rebounding margin of 14.2.

“You can see our size around the basket without Kaleb isn’t the same,” Miller said. “Everybody on this team has to be locked in and ready to contribute. If guys can’t be out there for whatever reason, other players have to be ready to play and embrace that role.

“We have to adjust to not having Kaleb right now, but we are capable.”

Miller mentioned that Gordon is talented enough to get nine to 10 rebounds a game, not the four he posted against Southern, which started 6’9″, 248-pound center Javan Mitchell and 6’8″, 200-pound Damien Goodwin at power forward. Brandon Ashley, who played at the post in place of Tarczewski, is 6’8″ and 230. Gordon is 6’9″ and 225. Translation: Southern did not have a size advantage.

Ashley managed a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Most promising for Miller is the fact Gordon is not close to reaching his potential. The fifth-year Arizona coach knows he would rather have Gordon play his best games in the upcoming Pac-12 season, not before January.

If Arizona beats NAU on Monday, and the Wildcats should, it will be 25-0 in regular-season non-conference games in the last two years.

“We have a couple of players (Ashley, Tarczewski and Gabe York) who have never lost a non-conference game (during the regular season),” Miller said. “That’s a heck of thing. It really is. It’s not like we’ve played teams we’re supposed to beat.”

Against NAU on Monday, the Wildcats must play within themselves more so against the competition again. They must control the boards and continue the positive trend correcting their early-season turnover struggles (only 17 in the last two games). And those darn free throws.

It’s OK to laugh about them now — as Gordon did after a derisive cheer from the crowd after he finally made one Thursday — but the UA’s percentage of only 66.6 must be corrected before the heat of the Pac-12 race.


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[table “” not found /] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report, Lindy’s College Sports and


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