Arizona Basketball

No. 1 Arizona Wildcats have resources to keep opponents off balance


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This is what being No. 1 brings ... national exposure on ESPN and elsewhere (ESPN screen shot)

This is what being No. 1 brings … national exposure on ESPN and elsewhere (ESPN screen shot)

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WHAT IS PRODUCTIVITY RATING?:
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)

ARIZONA 73, USC 53
PRODUCTIVITY RATING

* — STARTERS
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ARIZONA BEST STARTS
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ArizonaLogo logo.USC2

USC dares Arizona to shoot from the perimeter by packing in its 2-3 zone, and a hobbled Gabe York (ankle sprain) misses all three of his three-point attempts.

The Wildcats’ resource: T.J. McConnell, a point guard who was 0-for-7 from three-point range in the first three Pac-12 games. McConnell looks like Steve Kerr, drilling 5 of 7 three-pointers.

Arizona enters its 73-53 victory over USC Sunday night ranked 254th nationally with only 5.5 steals per game.

The Wildcats’ resource: Nick Johnson ties a career-high with five steals by himself against the Trojans. Arizona finished with 10 steals and helped cause 18 USC turnovers.

Kaleb Tarczewski has only two points against USC after scoring a career-high 16 points in the win over UCLA last Thursday.

The Wildcats’ resource: Brandon Ashley produces one of his best performances, scoring a season-high 19 points with four assists to maintain Arizona’s presence inside.

This is how dangerously resourceful Arizona’s seven-player rotation is presently: In the last six games, six different players have led the Wildcats in this site’s productivity rating (Ashley against USC, York against UCLA, Johnson against Washington, Tarczewski against Washington State, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson against NAU and Aaron Gordon against Southern).

Gordon and McConnell have led the Wildcats in productivity rating in only one game apiece to this point, yet they are as solid as any player at their position in the nation.

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The most important elements of Arizona’s close-knit team do not show up in the box score: The attitudes, basketball intelligence and never looking for a pat on the back. In a game in which Arizona could lose its focus — USC was routed by UCLA and ASU in its previous two games — the Wildcats gathered themselves when they were pressed into action.

Arizona coach Sean Miller, with his demanding style, understands a breakdown but will not tolerate one if a lack of effort is involved.

After McConnell threw a lazy pass that was stolen late in the second half against USC, Miller could be heard yelling: “Wake up!” to his point guard with that familiar intense look on his face. This was after McConnell made one of his five three-pointers to give him a season-high 16 points at that point.

A team does not start 17-0 by having a sense of entitlement. Not one of Arizona’s players feel deserving. Moments after beating USC, McConnell mentioned “practice” a couple of times, not in the way Allen Iverson infamously said the word. Practice has a positive overtone with the Wildcats even if it means running wind sprints.

“We have to take it one step at a time and that starts with practice,” McConnell told the Pac-12 Networks.

The Wildcats maintain their balance and focus because each player knows he can do better. Nick Johnson, a candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year, is not close to reaching the zenith of his potential at the collegiate level. He led the Wildcats with 112 assists last season with only 66 turnovers. His ratio is not as good this year with 42 assists and 33 turnovers.

TOP FIVE ARIZONA REBOUNDING TEAMS
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Tarczewski did not miss a field goal in Los Angeles (6-for-6 against UCLA and 1-for-1 against USC) but he was 2-for-10 in the previous game against Washington.

Gordon is a 46.8 percent free-throw shooter. He also shoots only 50 percent (82 of 164) from the field. For a player with his size, athleticism and ability to establish a presence around the basket, he should be shooting closer to 60 percent.

Derrick Williams, similar in style to Gordon, shot 58.6 percent from the field in his two-year career. If Gordon shot similarly, he would have 95 field goals instead of 82, which translates to approximately 26 more points. Arizona might need those 26 points from him in games down the stretch.

This list can extend to every player. Miller is impressive in the way he makes each of his players realize that individual and team achievements are not judged until the last shot is attempted in the NCAA tournament.

“Like I’ve said before, whether it’s about the No. 1 ranking or winning the most games in a row at the beginning of the season, it’s not as if that’s the end goal,” Miller told reporters after the USC game. “This is our path.”

PAC-12 STANDINGS
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LONGEST WINNING STREAK
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ARIZONA OVERALL PRODUCTIVITY RATING
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ARIZONA PAC-10/12
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR:
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ARIZONA AS NO. 1 TEAM
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ARIZONA SCHEDULE/PRODUCTIVITY RESULTS
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WILDABOUTAZCATS.net 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 TucsonCitizen.com.

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