Arizona Basketball

Three top observations of Arizona Wildcats’ 73-49 win over ASU



Brandon Ashley's performance inside and out as too much for ASU"s Savon Goodman (11) (Click on picture to access Arizona Wildcats YouTube video)

Brandon Ashley’s performance inside and out was too much for ASU”s Savon Goodman (11) (Click on picture to access Arizona Wildcats YouTube video)

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The three top observations of Arizona’s 73-49 win tonight at McKale Center over ASU while wondering if — other than Utah — the Wildcats will be their own worst enemy in the Pac-12 this season …

1. Sean Miller mixes up the starting lineup.

The move to start Elliott Pitts and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in place of Gabe York and Stanley Johnson was based on preparation and how Sean Miller felt about what was best for the team.

It is obvious that Johnson is going through some growing pains despite being a standout freshman.

In one particular sequence it was noticeable that Miller was perturbed by Johnson’s mistake by trying to drive against a couple of ASU defenders, drawing a charging foul, rather than pass the ball out. Miller pulled Johnson, who looked befuddled that he had to come out of the game.

Arizona led 62-45 at that point, with 7:59 remaining in the game, after the Wildcats led by as many as 23 points five minutes earlier.

Johnson finished with 13 points and seven rebounds but also had three turnovers with two assists and four personal fouls.

Hollis-Jefferson, in his first start of the season and seventh in his two-year career, finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. He was coming off a road swing to UTEP and UNLV scoring only nine points with nine rebounds. He also drew nine fouls in those games, including a foul-out at UNLV with more than 7 minutes remaining.

“I’m just here to play basketball, that’s all,” Hollis-Jefferson told reporters about his first start.


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Miller said in the post-game press conference that Hollis-Jefferson and Pitts deserved the starting nod because of their performance in practice. It was Pitts’ first start of the sophomore’s career. Symbolic of Arizona’s rotation depth, Pitts played in the final seconds, also in a mop-up role.

“Starting is important to players,” Miller said. “When you practice really well or hard, you want to reward those guys.”

Miller does not buy into the 5-star recruit getting any favors.

“I don’t ask his permission,” he said when asked about Johnson’s reaction to coming off the bench.

2. Brandon Ashley playing with determination.

Oakland Bishop O’Dowd post player Ivan Rabb, on an official visit to Tucson, must have been impressed with former O’Dowd player Brandon Ashley (13 points, including a 3-of-4 performance from three-point range).


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Miller sure was happy with Ashley in the week entering the game. With the long layoff, a 12-day respite after the Dec. 23 loss at UNLV, the Arizona coach was anxious to see what players would return the hungriest.

Ashley fulfilled those expectations in six straight practice sessions leading up to today’s game, according to Miller. The coaching staff awarded Ashley the gold jersey as the top performer in each workout.

“I’m really proud and happy for Brandon Ashley,” Miller told KCUB (1290-AM) in the postgame show. “Brandon was not at his best at UNLV (with continuous defensive breakdowns in the paint). His response was to be the best player in practice for six straight days, and he was just that.

“He set the tone early for us tonight on offense and defense.”

Ashley’s precision from beyond the arc was immediate as he was one of three Arizona players (T.J. McConnell and Johnson the others) to knock down the Wildcats’ first four shots — all three-point attempts. Ashley made two of them.

The Wildcats led 12-7 at the first media timeout with 15:28 left in the half, and ASU gradually slipped away from there. The Sun Devils were never able to find an answer against the defense played by Ashley and Arizona.

ASU’s starting frontcourt of Savon Goodman and Eric Jacobsen combined to shoot only eight times from the field with only one field goal by Jacobsen. Goodman, ASU’s leading scorer at 15.8 points a game, scored only two points. He was beset with four fouls, limiting him to only 19 minutes.

3. Miller consciously tried to divvy up minutes more.

Miller admitted to play-by-play veteran Brian Jeffries after the game that he learned that his regulars “played too many minutes” in the loss to UNLV. The starters — Ashley, McConnell, Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski and York combined to play 166 of Arizona’s 200 minutes in the game.

“We can’t ride the five … when you play them that long, things start coming apart at the seams,” Miller said.

ASU, which shot only 32.6 percent from the field and fell well short of their 73.5-points-a-game average, did not challenge Arizona like UNLV. That allowed Miller to go to his bench more. But Miller planned to use his rotation more often, no matter what.

Nine players were in double-figure minutes, with seven of them playing at least 20 minutes.

LEFTOVERS: Arizona made 16 of its 19 attempts from the free-throw line, drawing this cautious statement by Miller: “That hopefully is a sign of things to come.” … Miller was not happy with Arizona’s 14 turnovers, although ASU committed a season-high 22 of them. “If we don’t let three or four of those turnovers get away, we could score 80 points or more,” he said. … With the victory, Arizona cut ASU’s Territorial Cup standings lead to 3 to 2.5. The women’s team plays ASU twice in the next few days, on Thursday in Tucson and Saturday in Tempe. …

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

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