Arizona Basketball

Aaron Gordon exhibits highest confidence level of season in best game for Arizona Wildcats


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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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Amazing what confidence can do for Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon, who for the first time last night showed why he can succeed at the next level.

After having more turnovers than points at Utah, Aaron Gordon scored a team-high 23 points without a turnover at Colorado

After having more turnovers than points at Utah, Aaron Gordon scored a career-high 23 points without a turnover at Colorado

Gordon’s 23-point performance on 10-of-13 shooting from the field in the 88-61 win at Colorado is what earned him MVP honors for the McDonald’s All-American Game MVP and Under-19 World Championships last year. His inside-outside effectiveness, especially in the second half, brought back memories of how Derrick Williams was given the green light and dominated opponents in Arizona’s Elite Eight 2010-11 season.

Gordon’s explosiveness, with three spectacular rim-jarring dunks and eight rebounds, is what NBA flair is all about. A player can’t make it in college hoops, let alone the NBA, without confidence. Gordon has not played with conviction most of the season, especially in the Pac-12 portion of the schedule, before last night.

The low point was at Utah on Wednesday night, when he fouled out with 8:41 remaining and had more turnovers (five) than points (three).

“He had a great focus leading into our game to really make this a game that he played well,” Arizona coach Sean Miller told reporters after the Colorado game. “We talked a lot … we spent a lot of time with him in the last four days (after the Utah game) talking with him, making sure he was locked in.

“As good of a player that he is, he’s a great kid too. When you have an attitude like his, it’s just a matter of time before you break through. He was really terrific tonight.”

His breakthrough did not happen until after he picked up his third foul with 17:17 remaining in the second half and Arizona clinging to a 37-31 lead. At that point, Gordon had only four points.

In Arizona’s next two possessions, the light came on. Gordon corralled an offensive rebound following a miss by Nick Johnson and extended to the three-point line in the corner. Instead of trying to drive to the hoop, Gordon let go from three-point range.



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The city of Tucson gasped in disbelief and exhaled with relief all in one second with the swish. Gordon made only 1 of 10 from three-point range in Pac-12 games entering the game. He took the green light in that situation and hit the pedal like Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In the following possession, Gordon made an aggressive move to the hoop and scored off one of McConnell’s 10 assists. The basket increased the lead to 42-33 with 16:37. Colorado coach Tad Boyle, noticing danger ahead, immediately called timeout instead of waiting for the first media timeout less than a minute away.

It was too late. Within five minutes, Arizona maintained its edge with its defense and built a 53-41 lead when McConnell passed to Nick Johnson, who lobbed it to Gordon for another dunk. Colorado went through a three-minute scoring drought. McConnell had another steal in that stretch, passed ahead to Gordon, who made a behind-the-back double-pump jam to put Arizona ahead 57-41.

“Our frustrations on offense led to a dunk-fest tonight and they missed four shots in the second half,” said Boyle, who noted that in terms of defense, “There are 11 other teams in the Pac-12 and then there’s Arizona. It’s not even close.”

Gordon’s Derrick Williams-esque 1.296 productivity rating last night is by far his season-high, outshining a .966 rating in a non-consequential win over Southern at McKale Center on Dec. 19. Gordon did not lead the Wildcats in productivity rating in any Pac-12 games until last night.

His performance along with most others — namely Johnson (.971 productivity rating), McConnell (.774) and Kaleb Tarczewski (.731) — contributed to Arizona posting a productivity rating of .720 as a team. It is the Wildcats’ highest mark in the Pac-12 this season. It comes after two of Arizona’s least productive games at ASU (season-low .356) and Utah (.391).

The next challenge for Gordon, who also went without a turnover against the Buffaloes, is to learn from the performance and build more confidence and consistency heading into March.

“A couple of things didn’t go (Gordon’s) way at Utah and he uncharacteristically hung on to that and it affected his game,” Miller said. “It was kind of a learning moment for him. Sometimes you forget he’s only a freshman.

“He’s working through things like all 18-year-olds do. But he was focused tonight. No question, it was his best game at Arizona.”

MN-Magic number to win regular-season title
z-Eliminated from regular-season title contention

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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 and Lindy’s College Sports.


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