TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Aaron Gordon was nursing a sore groin and, by his own admission, was a little nervous.
Still, it was a strong debut for the highly touted freshman forward. Gordon scored 13 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked four shots in his collegiate debut for No. 6 Arizona as the Wildcats opened their season with a 73-62 victory over pesky Cal Poly on Friday night.
Arizona took the lead for good with just under 11 minutes left in the first half, but the Mustangs, who beat UCLA last season, stayed close until the final minutes.
Coach Sean Miller wasn’t surprised that his team struggled against what he considered a good early season opponent.
“Our upside is I think significant, but we just have so many players in new roles that you can’t expect us to be a great team right now,” he said. “We’re far from it. … I do think that down the road we’re going to be a much better team than you saw tonight.”
Six players reached double figures for the Wildcats.
Gabe York scored 12 points, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Nick Johnson had 11 apiece and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 10 for the Wildcats, who were just 20 of 36 from the free-throw line.
Kyle Odister scored 21 points for Cal Poly while going 7 for 14 from 3-point range. Chris Eversley added 17 points for the Mustangs, who were 11 of 26 on 3-pointers.
Gordon had been limited in practice over the past 10 days or so because of a groin strain.
“In tonight’s game, in the 33 minutes that he played, 20 of the 33 you could kind of really see him at full speed,” Miller said. “And he did the best he could for about 10 to 13, especially in the second half. You could see he wore down a little bit. … But he did a lot of things tonight. He makes his free throws and he has not a good night, but a great night.”
Gordon was 2 of 6 from the free throw line.
“I missed too many free throws but I was a little nervous at first,” he said. “I finally told myself that basketball is basketball no matter what level or where you play at, it’s always the same game.”
He said that his back was getting sore as the game wore on because he was compensating for the sore groin.
“I’ll be back to normal in a few days, though,” he said. “I just have to take care of it and it will go away.”
Arizona led 37-34 at halftime and didn’t get the lead to double digits until Gordon blocked a shot, then converted a three-point play at the other end to put the Wildcats ahead 56-45 with 9:47 to play. Cal Poly never got closer than seven points after that.
“For us to come into a top-five atmosphere, we have to play A-plus,” Cal Poly coach Joe Callero said. “We played a solid first half, but it’s a 40-minute game and it doesn’t matter how close you are at halftime. Their execution and athleticism wore us down.”
Gordon had a tip-in and a 3-pointer, but two missed free throws, in the first 4 minutes as Arizona took an 11-4 lead.
But a 9-0 run on three straight 3-pointers, two by Odister and one by Michael Bolden, put Cal Poly up 19-17 with 12 1-2 minutes left in the half.
C.J. McConnell, the point guard transfer from Duquesne, hit a 3 from the corner to put Arizona back on top 20-19 and the Wildcats led the rest of the way. Hollis-Jefferson, like Gordon a freshman, made two free throws with 6:19 to play in the half gave Arizona a 26-19 lead, then the Mustangs twice cut it to one before the break.
Eversley’s 3-pointer with 46 seconds left made it 35-34, and Ashley made two free throws to put Arizona ahead 37-34 at halftime.
Dave Nwaba scored all 12 of his points in the first half for the Mustangs.
York’s 3-pointer started a 7-0 spurt that put Arizona up 44-36 barely 4 minutes into the second half. Eversley’s 3-pointer cut it to 51-45 with 11:54 to play, then Johnson made a 10-footer and Gordon, after blocking a shot, came down the court, scored and was fouled for the three-point play that made it 56-45.
The Wildcats led by as many as 15 points down the stretch.
Cal Poly has beaten Pac-12 team the past two seasons: then-No. 11 UCLA last season and Southern California two years ago. Arizona was the highest-ranked team the Mustangs have ever played.