The Arizona Wildcats (27-2, 14-2) clinched the Pac-12 regular season title Sunday night with a 79-66 win over the Stanford Cardinal (18-10, 9-7). With the win, Arizona closed out the home portion of their regular season with a perfect 18-0 record.
On Aaron Gordon-
This was easily one of AG’s best performances in a Wildcat uniform. He poured in 19 points and corralled 15 rebounds, but perhaps his best contributions were through his intangibles.
Gordon set the tone early in this game, as he was quicker than Dwight Powell on both ends. His energy, especially on the defensive end, quickly spread to his teammates and the Cats were able to jump out to yet another quick lead.
It goes without saying that Arizona elevates to new heights when AG plays well, and if the past three games are any indication of how he will play going forward, then Arizona should be right in the middle of Final Four conversations.
On Arizona’s offense-
The improvement of this team on the offensive end from just a few weeks ago is startling. Arizona seems like they are back to the ways of playing a “connected” game on offense, meaning guys are in sync with each other and are anticipating correctly what their teammates are going to do. This is especially important for Arizona given their relative struggle from the perimeter at times, and the improved ball movement and player movement helps to get guys open for a half-second longer.
On Arizona’s bench-
Arizona’s reserves tallied 25 points Sunday night. The scoring was led by Gabe York’s 12, all of which came in the second half.
The improved play from the bench in recent weeks has played a large role in Arizona’s offensive resurgence. Both York and Elliot Pitts provide much-needed floor spacing, and Matt Korcheck’s ability to play solid defensive minutes has allowed Miller to spell the rest of the big man rotation accordingly.
I imagine as the postseason draws nearer we may see Arizona turn to a seven man rotation once again, but the quality minutes the reserves have played as of late have given the starters a deserved late season reprieve.
On Kaleb Tarczewski-
Did Brandon Ashley let Zeus borrow his offensive game for the rest of the year? Whatever the case may be, Zeus is developing with each passing game on the offensive end. In recent weeks he has shown the ability to knock down open jumpers, and his baseline drive and eventual dunk on Sunday was literally jaw dropping to me.
I mentioned after the Ashley injury that I would like to see Zeus get to about 13ppg for the rest of the year, and had it not been for foul trouble in this one he probably would have gotten there. If Zeus continues to improve on the offensive end like he has been lately, Arizona will have as good a shot as anybody at reaching Arlington.
On Rondae Hollis-Jefferson-
On a night where so many other stories took precedence over the overall game of RHJ, I am not so sure he didn’t deliver the highlight of the night, and possibly season, with his weak side rotation to block a Chasson Randle layup attempt. The fun didn’t end there. Hollis-Jefferson gathered the rebound and went the length of the floor, only to finish in between two Stanford defenders with his off hand. Rondae usually has a play or two per night that really makes me say “WOW”, but I am not sure it gets much better than his highlight from this one.
On T.J. McConnell-
McConnell continued his recent impressive offensive production with 14 points Sunday. He has almost become automatic on his mid-range jumper, and the fact that he has to be honored on a consistent basis is one major reason for Arizona’s improved offensive flow.
On Arizona’s focus-
I have loved what I have seen from Arizona as of late in regards to focus and effort. Don’t get me wrong, these have both been strengths for the Cats all year, but in recent weeks especially it has been evident that guys are paying attention to detail and doing all the little things right.
In the first meeting with Stanford the Cardinal were able to use their athletic big men to dominate the paint area and keep the game close. However, in the rematch, Arizona set the tone defensively early and limited Stanford to only five offensive rebounds.
Not only did Arizona control the glass, but they also did a superb job of attacking mismatches and getting the Cardinal in foul trouble. Four of Stanford’s primary offensive options battled foul trouble at one point or another, and because of this Arizona was able to keep extending their lead.
As Miller and Co. began to see teams for the second time the little things and commitment to preparation has really stood out. In the past four games, Arizona has done a very good job of bottling up the opponent’s top scoring options. This will need to continue this next week as Arizona heads to the Pac NW to face a couple of quality offensive teams, most notably Oregon, who is looking for the last marquee victory that would cement their NCAA Tournament status.