Arizona-Arizona St. Preview
With one of its top scorers out with a season-ending injury, Arizona is hoping a pair of freshman can pick up the load.
The No. 2 Wildcats will look to their youngsters Friday night when they visit rival Arizona State in a matchup of two of the Pac-12’s top teams.
Since losing forward Brandon Ashley – the team’s third-leading scorer – to a foot injury early in the Feb. 1 loss to California, Arizona (23-1, 10-1) has been forced to rework its lineup. Entering the starting five in Ashley’s place has been Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a freshman who averaged 8.0 points in the first 22 games.
But Hollis-Jefferson has elevated his play and averaged 15.0 points on 12-of-23 shooting with 15 rebounds in the past two games. He is playing alongside fellow first-year forward Aaron Gordon, who scored a game-high 17 points in a 76-54 victory over Oregon State on Sunday.
"We’re not going to be able to replace Brandon," coach Sean Miller said. "We’re going to have to do it as a team and there are things that we have to try to emphasize more now that he’s not a part of what we’re doing and maybe emphasize some things less. We’re working through that as a coaching staff and a team."
The Wildcats may not have as much offensive firepower without the versatile Ashley, who averaged 11.5 points per game, but they are still among the best defensive teams in the country. Arizona is holding conference foes to a league-low 57.5 points per game and opponents are shooting 40.7 percent on two-point field goals, which ranks among the nation’s best.
Playing in Tempe will be no easy task for the Wildcats.
Arizona State (18-6, 7-4) is 13-1 on its home floor this season, including five consecutive conference victories. The Sun Devils notched their fifth win in six games overall, 74-72 over Oregon on Saturday behind Jordan Bachynski’s career-high 26 points. He also had nine rebounds and nine blocks, including the game-saving rejection in the final seconds, swatting Ducks guard Joseph Young to preserve the win after Arizona State blew a 21-point lead.
Bachynski, who is 15 of 20 from the field in the last two games, was named Pac-12 Player of the Week.
"You can’t say enough about the weekend Jordan Bachynski had," coach Herb Sendek said. "He was spectacular again (against Oregon). He was almost perfect from the field, almost perfect from the foul line, nine blocked shots, nine rebounds, including the game-winning play."
Arizona State’s center, though, has never fared well against Arizona. In seven career meetings, he’s averaged 5.7 points and managed only three without making a field goal in a 91-68 loss in Tucson on Jan. 16.
Leading scorer Jahii Carson had a game-high 20 points in that game, but was limited to 11 on 2-of-10 shooting Saturday. Carson ranks third in the Pac-12 with 19.0 points and had scored at least 20 in five of his previous six contests.
Arizona had seven players in double figures in last month’s win over Arizona State and shot 53.3 percent (8 for 15) from 3-point range, its highest percentage in a Pac-12 game in nearly two years.
The Wildcats are 7-2 in the series since Miller took over prior to the 2010-11 season, including wins in six of the last seven meetings.