Arizona opens NIT Tip-Off against Fairleigh Dickinson

Aaron Gordon is already making an impact for Arizona. Now, he’ll try to do it in a tournament.

Gordon and the fifth-ranked Wildcats look to continue their home dominance of nonconference teams when they open the NIT Season Tip-Off against Fairleigh Dickinson on Monday night.

Gordon is considered one of the top freshmen in the nation, and he’s living up to the hype so far for Arizona (3-0). The forward is averaging 14.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while making 58.1 percent of his shots from the floor through the first three games.

“He’s an incredible player,” coach Sean Miller said. “What separates him is how he is as a person. He is fun guy to coach, a fun teammate and a very hard worker. We’re lucky to have him.”

Gordon had 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks in Thursday’s 69-60 win at San Diego State. He got two of those points in stunning fashion, leaping over a defender for an alley-oop on an inbound pass from T.J. McConnell.

“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” McConnell said. “Well, maybe Blake Griffin, but what he did was amazing.”

Nick Johnson is also off to a strong start, leading the team with 16.0 points while shooting 56.3 percent from the field. The junior guard matched his career high with 23 points against the Aztecs, two fewer than his total in his first two games, both at home.

The Wildcats have won 24 of their last 26 when hosting nonconference opponents, including nine in a row by an average of 19.3 points.

That streak doesn’t appear to be in much jeopardy against Fairleigh Dickinson. The Knights have lost 10 in a row on the road, and are coming off a 74-60 defeat to Hartford on Friday. They were outrebounded 27-19, went 1 of 6 from the free-throw line and committed 16 turnovers.

Coach Greg Herenda came away feeling good, however, and that could stem from his team shooting a season-high 55.3 percent from the field after shooting 30.2 percent in an 80-58 loss at Hofstra five days earlier.

“I saw so many good things from our team,” Herenda said. “We are getting better on a daily basis. We just need to play 40 great minutes instead of 30.”

That may not even matter against Arizona. Fairleigh Dickinson has been outscored by an average of 25.3 points while losing 11 games in a row to ranked opponents since 1996.

Mustafaa Jones leads the Knights with 12.7 points per game, but he’s looking for some consistency. The junior guard was 4 of 7 from the field — 3 of 5 from behind the arc — to finish with 11 points against the Hawks. That was an improvement after he had seven points the previous game while going 1 of 10 overall and 1 of 7 from long range.

The winner will face either Rhode Island or Division II Metro State at McKale Center on Tuesday.