Long Beach St.-Arizona Preview
Arizona started its highly anticipated season in successful fashion but likely has to clean up some glaring issues against better competition.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats could get tested in their next two games, beginning Monday night when they host three-time defending Big West champion Long Beach State.
Before Thursday's visit to San Diego State - an NCAA tournament team last season - Arizona (1-0) faces the 49ers looking to improve upon its 27-2 record in non-conference home games against unranked opponents under coach Sean Miller. That mark includes a 73-62 victory over Cal Poly on Friday.
Aaron Gordon, one of the nation's most highly touted freshmen, turned in a solid debut with 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. He had recently been limited in practice due to a strained groin.
"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."
Gordon was one of six Wildcats scoring in double figures, including fellow freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell also enjoyed a strong Arizona debut, giving the team a true point guard presence that it lacked last season. McConnell had a game-high six assists and two steals. Arizona players accounted for only seven performances of six-plus assists in 2012-13.
The Wildcats were woeful from the free-throw line, making 20 of 36 with Gordon - admittedly nervous - going 2 for 6. Arizona was second in the Pac-12 last season in free-throw shooting (74.9 percent).
Perimeter defense also will likely be a point of emphasis after Cal Poly knocked down 11 of 23 3-point attempts.
"In a season opener, a lot of unexpected things can happen," Miller said. "The exciting thing about our team is that we will only get better as we keep moving on. We're not as bad of a free-throw shooting team as we showed tonight."
Long Beach State (1-0) also comes off a win in its opener, 71-59 over Hawaii Pacific on Saturday. Junior Mike Caffey scored a career-high 27 points while senior Dan Jennings posted his first career double-double with 10 points and 17 rebounds.
The 49ers are looking to avoid falling to 0-5 in the all-time series after a 94-72 defeat at Arizona last year. Caffey was 1 for 7 from the field for three points while Brandon Ashley led Arizona with 20 points and 10 rebounds on a 6-for-6 shooting night. Ashley had 11 points and nine boards against Cal Poly.
The defeat in Tucson was one of four against ranked opponents last season for the 49ers, losing them all by at least 15 points.