The Arizona Wildcats' second game of the year was a much easier test than the first, as they handled the Cal State Northridge Matadors, 86-68, in the opening round of the Maui Invitational. The Wildcats led from wire to wire in McKale Center on Sunday and had an advantage as large as 29 at one point.
It was a total team performance as all positions contributed to the offensive scheme as well as performed well on the defensive side of the ball. Stanley Johnson led Arizona with 17 points, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 14 points, eight boards and three assists.
The hands of the starters were active early and often, deflecting passes from the Matadors and making life difficult for them on offense. In the end, CSUN managed to shoot 42 percent overall and only hit 2 of 10 threes. We all know how great the Arizona defense was last season and in order to make a run deep in the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats have to get back to that suffocating defense.
Sean Miller was not too happy about the little turnovers that his team committed on Friday evening and hoped that they would dissipate by the time this game rolled around. However, the sloppiness continued early on in this game against the Matadors. T.J. McConnell double-dribbled, Stanley Johnson traveled, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson carried the ball. But the Cats settled down and started moving the ball better as the game wore on. They were able to get better looks with the extra passing around the three point arc.
The three-ball really opened up the scoring for Zona in the first half as the Cats made five of them compared to Northridge’s one. Gabe York led the way with all six of his points in the first half coming off of the three point shot. York has made some key baskets when it has really mattered. His ability to hit the three-ball more often than not will be vital down the stretch in conference play.
One thing that worked well on offense was getting the ball down low near the rim. After they penetrated Northridge’s defense, the Matadors would collapse towards the ball. Whoever had the ball at that time would quickly pass it back out to a teammate. They had to be ready to quickly fire and the Cats were locked and loaded making 28 of 52 shots and shooting 53.8% for the night.
CSUN was able to score on Arizona in the second half -- in fact the Matadors scored 45 points. However, the Matadors just could not claw their way back as the Arizona battled them point for point. Stephen Maxwell led all players tonight with 19 points and teammate Aaron Parks followed closely behind with 15.
The Cats will get a couple of days rest and some extra practice as they do not play again until Wednesday night when the UC Irvine Anteaters roll into Tucson. UCI will be a much tougher test and Arizona will certainly be at their best in order to take down a stingy Anteater squad.