No. 10 Arizona takes positives from win over Colorado
TUCSON, Ariz. — Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored his first of two points with 8 minutes, 15 seconds left in the game. Center Kaleb Tarczewski picked up his first rebound with 8:35 left in the second half.
No problem — though the crowd took notice when Tarczewski grabbed the rebound as it gave a half-hearted cheer — Elliott Pitts had a career-high 12 points, hitting four 3-pointers and Brandon Ashley had a game-high 11 rebounds to help No. 10 Arizona get by visiting Colorado 68-54 at McKale Center on Thursday night.
The latter were "the two (players) that jumped out to me," Wildcats coach Sean Miller said after the victory that moved Arizona to 15-2 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-12 Conference. "They are positive signs moving forward."
Arizona will need more on Saturday when it faces visiting No. 8 Utah, a team Miller said is the one to beat in the conference. Utah on Thursday defeated Arizona State 76-59 in Tempe.
But first the positives from Arizona’s bounce-back win.
Stanley Johnson was more aggressive and efficient in scoring 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds. He added three assists.
"Last game, I got in foul trouble and I felt I got out of rhythm," he said, of the Oregon State game where he took just four shots. "I’m not a selfish player so I feel I can get other players shots when I’m not in rhythm. It wasn’t that people were looking me off (or) that I wasn’t open but that was the best thing to do. We sacrifice stuff like that and that’s how your team wins."
Arizona outrebounded Colorado 41-26 and had 17 second-chance points. Johnson said the "common denominator" in Arizona’s two losses was rebounds.
"That’s definitely one of our main focuses going through the rest of the season; we definitely want to up our rebounding totals," said Ashley, who had four offensive boards.
It also helped that Colorado was without starters Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott who were out with varying injuries.
"There’s absolutely no excuse for our performance because we were missing players," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "We aren’t going to win a jumping contest with Arizona and that doesn’t mean we can’t pursue offensive rebounds."
Focus was also placed on the defensive intensity. Colorado shot 41.8 percent, but couldn’t stop (using a variety of players) Colorado guard Askia Booker, who finished with 30 of the Buffaloes’ 54 points. Miller called it "a great performance and one of best I’ve seen."
Did Miller like the intensity compared to last week?
"I mean, we had a player score 30 on us," Miller said of his defense. "So … for the most part we were OK."
Translation: Not good enough.
They’ll need to be better Saturday.
"I told our guys in the locker room that Utah is the best team in the Pac-12," Miller said on the final question of his postgame press conference. "They are the deepest, most experienced. They believe in what they do the most and they execute on both sides of the ball."
"We’re going to have to upset them here in McKale," Miller said. "I’m not saying we’re 20 points worse but I think they’ve proven from the beginning of the season to today that they are the best team in the Pac-12. We’re going to have to be at our best. Some of the things you see on (Thursday night’s) stat sheet we’re going to have in a favorable light."
Like the Wildcats shooting 7 for 18 from beyond the 3-point line, with Pitts playing his best game in two years. Miller called every one of the 3s "timely."
Pitts hit his first with 13:32 in the half to cut into Colorado’s early lead at 9-7. He hit his second with 1:15 left to make it 33-22 and to give Arizona a spark before halftime. His third came at 11:05 when Colorado had cut the lead to 47-42, but he made it 50-42. And his final blow came with 2:53 to give Arizona its biggest lead of the night at 66-49.
"I’m really happy for Elliott," Miller said. "Gabe York tweaked his ankle and when that happens you look toward the next player to have a bigger role. That was Elliott. To see him respond like he did I’m happy for him. He’s one of our team’s hardest workers."
Follow Steve Rivera on Twitter