Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats’ talented freshmen spark NCAA win less than year removed from high school


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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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When Arizona faces Gonzaga in a Round of 32 game in the NCAA tournament tomorrow, the freshman duo of Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will be exactly one year removed from losing their respective state title games. They hope March 23 of 2014 is a reversal of March 23 of 2013.

Aaron Gordon

Aaron Gordon

Hollis-Jefferson and Chester (Pa.) lost a Pennsylvania state title game 63-47 to Syracuse recruit B.J. Johnson and Lower Merion, a game in which Hollis-Jefferson had 12 points and 18 rebounds.

Gordon and San Jose (Calif.) Archbishop Mitty lost to Arizona Class of 2014 recruit Stanley Johnson and Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei 50-45 in a California state playoff championship game. Gordon’s 22 points and 20 rebounds were not enough to overcome Mater Dei and Johnson’s 26 points and 12 rebounds.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

“I hate it,” Gordon was quoted as saying by after the loss. “I can’t stand it. To end a career with a loss …”

Arizona fans hope Gordon will not mutter those same words after tomorrow night’s game with the Bulldogs, a team that came into the NCAA tournament under the radar because of all the hype surrounding Oklahoma State’s resurgence under embattled star Marcus Smart.

Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson know all about hype as McDonald’s All-Americans and perceived one-and-done players about to leave to the NBA after only one season. Despite Hollis-Jefferson being 19 and Gordon only 18, they have weathered the outside influences and kept their bond with their teammates and coaches defensible.

“It’s a big time tournament but it’s something you have to rise to the occasion to and I felt like I did pretty well for my first time,” Gordon said yesterday after producing 16 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots in a 68-59 win over Weber State.

“It was fun.”

Gordon also said he wants to “dominate and advance” rather than “survive and advance”.

Sean Miller wants fun to be the theme for his team and his youngest players provided that necessary no-holds-barred attitude against Weber State.

“You have to enjoy the tournament,” Miller told TNT in a postgame interview. “All of us do this for March. All of us do this for the chance to get to a Final Four. If you’re out there playing and you’re worrying and you’re tight, it’s just no fun.”



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In their first NCAA tournament game, Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson led the Wildcats in this site’s productivity rating (see accompanying chart). Hollis-Jefferson had a productivity rating of 1.045 in only 23 minutes off the bench while Gordon posted a .765 rating in 34 minutes.

“They’re relentless players on offense and defense,” junior point guard T.J. McConnell said of the freshmen, as quoted by the Arizona Daily Wildcat. “They put our team on their back, and I respect them for that.”

McConnell is in his third collegiate season (fourth overall after sitting out last year following his transfer from Duquesne) but this is also his first NCAA tournament experience. He came out tight, missing all four of his shots, and did not run Arizona’s offense adequately as a point guard against Weber State’s zone defense late in the second half.

This is a time when an upperclassman can learn from his younger teammates.

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Hollis-Jefferson had the quote of the game, saying, “We lost our eye,” in reference to allowing Weber State trim Arizona’s 21-point lead to seven points late in the game. His right eye was poked three times reportedly causing some swelling.

He came out of the game looking like a fighter, exactly the kind of character Arizona needs going into its game tomorrow against a gritty Gonzaga team that has lost only six games this season.

Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson embody the resolution rarely seen from a freshman duo in the same season. That is evident in their rebounding, the supreme hustle stat coaches love to show players whether they are playing like men or not.

Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson are men despite their youth. In the Weber State game, they became the first freshman tandem in the program’s history to each record at least 200 rebounds in a season. Gordon has 273 and Hollis-Jefferson 200. Gordon is five rebounds shy of Bob Elliott’s freshman rebounding record that was set 40 years ago.

They also lead the Wildcats in blocked shots with Gordon tallying 35 and Hollis-Jefferson 34.

Their free-throw shooting (Gordon at 43 percent and Hollis-Jefferson at 64.7) can be unnerving, but Arizona’s youngest players are the undeniable backbone of this team. The way they play over the course of a game, Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson make March 23 of 2013 seem so long ago when they were high school seniors.

They also provide hope that March 23 of 2014 will bring them a much more favorable result.


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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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