Methodical, patient basketball was in the cards for the Arizona Wildcats on Tuesday. Equally as impressive, the lack of a hangover following a -- so far -- season-defining victory against Duke was promising in UA's 79-58 win over Texas Tech in McKale Center.
Brandon Ashley put in another impressive effort, scoring 18 points by going 6-for-8 from the field while grabbing 10 rebounds.
T.J. McConnell might have put in the most impressive performance of all. He led Arizona with three steals and 10 assists, the ball movement leading to the Wildcats shooting 50 percent and recording 16 assists on 25 made field goals.
Arizona got going from the tip, bursting out to a 10-0 lead before Texas Tech answered with an 8-3 run. Like they have done so far this year, the Wildcats didn't panic. They led just 35-25 at the halftime intermission, but began the second half with a 12-2 run. While the Red Raiders did respond with brief runs, the UA defense didn't allow any rhythm for a prolonged run to make it a game.
The Wildcats got into transition in the second half, and the highlight of the night to nobody's surprise included an Aaron Gordon dunk when Texas Tech failed to stop his ball handling in the fullcourt.
Gordon hit a late free throw to put in a game-high of 19 points, just one more than Ashley and Nick Johnson's 18. Tuesday was Gordon's most offensively aggressive game of his career. Not only was it a career high in scoring -- Gordon left eight points at the foul stripe for an Arizona team that hit just 19-of-33 foul shots (57 percent) on the evening.
Johnson also had a unique game individually. He scored 12 of his 18 points beyond the three-point arc, a testament to his offseason shooting workouts.
Meanwhile, Arizona held Texas Tech to 39.6 percent shooting for the game and 1-for-11 from three-point range.
The game hinted at Arizona's evolution thus far into the season.
Perfection was far from there, but the sense that the Wildcats had too many highs and lows throughout the game wasn't. It hasn't been all season, after all. More importantly, roles seem to be coming together more quickly that any other team in Sean Miller's Tucson tenure.
McConnell has wasted no time at proving he's not only a pass-first point guard, but one who won't even force things if his talented team is down. His continued to trust his teammates in pivotal moments.
Johnson has picked his spots offensively to explode. In the first half, he hit three three-pointers within 2:30 that kept any of the Red Raiders' momentum at bay. Gordon has become more comfortable attacking the rim like Ashley -- the starting forwards combined to shoot 13-for-18 on Tuesday.
Miller's rotations seem set in stone. Though Jordin Mayes earned a few spot minutes within the flow of the game, the Wildcats subbed few players but did so often. The versatility and interchangeable pieces made that possible, and not only does it help break up the minutes for each individual player -- the rotations mix up the styles and matchups on the court.
Was there a negative other than the foul-shooting issues? A few.
Turnovers plagued Arizona in the first half, though they corrected the 11-turnover first 20 minutes to record just four in the second frame.
Texas Tech's bench unit got 23 points combined from Aaron Ross and Kader Tapsoba, and starting forward Jaye Crockett added 11 points. If we're to nitpick at all, it's the lack of dribble-penetration defense from young players like Gordon. When it comes down to it, it's hard to imagine it's anything but inexperience. Effort-wise, the forwards did enough damage to keep a big Red Raiders team off the boards, winning 43-23.
And as they did in games from Duke, to Fairleigh Dickinson, to Drexel, the Wildcats never panicked.