There Josh Green stood just a foot away from Richard Jefferson, one of Arizona great players of the last 20 years.
Past meets present yet oh so similar. Two high-flying, high-energy, defense-first players who have put on an Arizona uniform.
Jefferson was the explosive guy in Arizona’s last run to the Final Four in 2001; can Green be that guy to at least help UA see a deep run into next month’s March Madness?
Thursday night’s 89-63 win over Oregon State helps – even if it is a smidge – to that cause. Or at least it gives Arizona hope that indeed, Josh Green & Company can play like they did Thursday. Competition be damned. Arizona needed another complete game like Thursday’s for self-gratification and self-motivation. Arizona is now 19-7 overall and 9-4 in conference.
It’s was easily Arizona’s most complete game in what seems like ages.
“Our practices over the last two weeks have been really good,” Green said. “Everyone is in a competitive environment every single day. I think it translated into the game. We played a great game.”
“We were really hungry to get this win,” said UA’s Nico Mannion, of the many players of the game.
He had 16 points, six assists and two rebounds.
It was, however, overshadowed by THE player of the game in Green, who had a team-high 18 points, six assists and four steals. He, too, added two rebounds.
Arizona hit shots (43 percent), including 10 for 21 from beyond the 3-point line. (That alone is cause for celebration). It outrebounded OSU, 35-33, had just eight turnovers to OSU’s 21. UA had 26 points from those turnovers.
Arizona got out early and ran and ran and ran some more. That’s what this team is built for – transition baskets and defense turning opportunities into baskets.
“Overall we are at our best when we get stops and can get in transition,” said Mannion, who is the leader of that with Green being his sidekick.
Move, motor and, create, mayhem. It’s something Sean Miller has been looking for all if not parts of the season. For sure recently, as the Pac-12 tournament looms.
Arizona, ASU and Colorado all with four losses atop the conference standings with five games left. HUGE game for Arizona vs. Oregon on Saturday. Ducks are going to come out swinging to avoid the sweep and stay in race. We'll find out how tough Arizona is on Saturday.
“It’s great to see our guys come out ready. I thought we had a lot of energy,” Miller said. “We (had) a lot of contributions from really everybody that played in the game. Josh Green was outstanding and it’s great to see him contribute in so many different ways (with) six assists, four steals, 7 for 11 from the field, 2-3 from three-point line and then four rebounds. You know we got off to a great start and really played well throughout the game.”
That, too, mattered given OSU likes to control the tempo. But Arizona was able to get the lead early at 10-2 and later at 24-15 to ease into a rhythm it’s been searching for against rhythm-breaking teams like OSU. It advanced the lead in the second half as well, moving it to 13, 53-40 seven minutes in.
“The first four minutes of the game, the first four minutes of the second half are tone setters,” Miller said in explaining the importance of establishing control. “You want to be good in those two segments and tonight we were good in both first four minutes of the game and, and even the first four minutes of the second half, which at times we have struggled. We talked a lot about that, for this game and our guys responded.”
Now, his team has some momentum going into Saturday’s game vs. Oregon, which lost to Arizona State in Tempe.
Heck, does Miller even believe in momentum? His team, stilted and stuttering throughout the season, has won three straight games. That alone is not a big deal but in a season of inconsistency that’s seemingly a small milestone.
“Yes, confidence comes with momentum if you make shots (and) if you play (and) if you win, you know, I think it feels good,” Miller said. “But as you know by our team we haven’t always handled (it correctly) when things have gone well. We’ve talked a lot about that, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to change, but the game on Saturday is like March Madness, you know it’s a late-season game.”
And this is when big-time players must step up in big time games. Mannion and Green are now on the clock.
They stepped up Thursday. Green was the guy Jefferson interviewed after the game for the Pac-12 Network. Jefferson said he thought it was Green’s best performance as a Wildcat.
“The fact that we’re at the end of the season where it really counts and the team needs to come together,” Green told Jefferson on why he played so well. “We won this game but now it’s going onto the next one. The big thing for me was coming out with a positive attitude on the defensive end and bring as much positive energy as I can.”
That’s Jefferson-like back in the good old days when Arizona won going away and the crowd left happy.
Does Jefferson see any similarities?
“Yes, but I stayed three years,” he said, smiling knowing Green is likely gone after this season. He added he sees plenty of potential in Green saying he needs to continue to work on his defense, play the tough guy on the opponent’s offense and work hard. That was an RJ trademark back in the day. As for his offense? Don’t worry about it. He’s young and he can work on that moving forward.
“He’s a great guy and it was an honor to talk to him,” Green said. “He’s a legend here at Arizona and has done some amazing things. For him to tell me what’s up was cool. I really respect him for that.”