York giving Wildcats sharpshooting they need

Gabe York hit three 3-pointers and finished with 12 points Thursday night in top-ranked Arizona's road win over UCLA.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea

TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona guard Gabe York is well aware that his defense is what will keep him on the court, but it’s his offense that will put him there.

York undeniably can shoot and undeniably can score. His defense? Well, it’s getting better for the Wildcats, who are moving into uncharted territory these days after defeating UCLA on Thursday night to improve to a school-record-tying 16-0. York, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, did his part, hitting three 3-pointers in the impressive road win.

"I think shooting in general is what the team needs me to do most out of anything," York said last week after coming off the bench and shooting 2 for 5, including a big trey in transition, in a win over Washington. "I don’t like to think of myself as a shooter, but that is the one thing I do best. Hopefully that will keep happening for me."

It did. A game later, against UCLA, he had one of the best performances of his career, finishing with 12 points. And with each game, the stage gets bigger for York, who played relatively little last year as he adjusted to college basketball.

The transition is happening. In fact, more transition baskets would be welcomed.

"We have to get more of that (hitting shots in transition)," Wildcats coach Sean Miller said this week. "I think it’s really healthy for our team and really healthy for Gabe, because he’s kind of like that sniper in transition, (because) if you lose him when the game is being played fast, he can knock that 3 down. Sometimes more than one."

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Miller said that as the season goes on, the team will get more comfortable in that role.

"No question, Gabe relishes that," Miller said. "He has a calm about him and a confidence about him."

It looks like he’s made a nice adjustment. He’s hitting 44 percent (23 for 59) of his shots from beyond the arc this year and averaging 7.5 points per game. He likes to think of himself as a player capable of hitting big shots in big situations. Arizona will need that as it continues on its journey through the Pac-12 … and beyond. The Wildcats play at USC on Sunday with hopes of becoming the first team in school history to start 17-0.

As teammate Nick Johnson said, York changed the game.

"I’€™m not surprised at all,"€ Johnson told the media about York after the game. "€œWe gave him all the confidence in the world, and he has all the confidence in the world. We want him, when he gets open — it doesn’t matter when it is in the shot clock — to shoot the ball. We know he can change the game, and that’s what he did. He also had a few huge passes, and I think he also defended really well."

We want him, when he gets open — it doesn’t matter when it is in the shot clock — to shoot the ball. We know he can change the game.

Arizona's Nick Johnson on teammate Gabe York

So it appears York’s is becoming more complete with every minute as one of Arizona’s impact players off the bench. He’s averaging 19 minutes a game. In reality, York is one of just two, maybe three, players who get regular time off the bench, as Miller has worked with a seven- or eight-man rotation. But with York filling his role well, everyone seems comfortable.

"When he’s really knocking down the shot from 3 — going 3 for 3, 3 for 4 or 4 for 5 — we’re a whole other team," freshman forward Aaron Gordon said last week. "With a shot like that, it helps the momentum going."

Brandon Ashley said York’s improvement hasn’t come so much on the court as in his head. It’s mostly mental, knowing he is capable of nights like Thursday against UCLA and days like Saturday against Washington.

"Mentally, he’s just a lot stronger this year," Ashley said. "It’s confidence. He’s built confidence, and it’s big for him and our team."