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Arizona basketball: Cal St. Northridge up next for Wildcats

The Arizona Wildcats' second game of the year pits them against a dangerous forward duo.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Miller expressed concern about his team's tentativeness after his Arizona Wildcats opened the season with a victory against Mount St. Mary's. As many dunks as there were by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and as good as Brandon Ashley looked in his first official game action since his foot injury a year ago, the Wildcats had holes.

The defense didn't play with consistent intensity, and the offensive flaws most people expected reared its their heads. Arizona must prove it can shoot and that it is willing to attack physically interior teams.

The Wildcats' next test comes at McKale Center against Cal State Northridge in the technical opening round matchup the Maui Invitational tournament. A decently long list of improvements remain for Arizona, and it begins with the returning players more than the newcomers.

Shooting issues pop up again: Last season's Achilles Heel appeared again in the season opener. Arizona shot 12-for-25 from the foul stripe, and a much-improved free throw shooter for the Orlando Magic, Aaron Gordon, can even scoff at that figure. He's shooting 77 percent so far as an NBA player. The shooting woes extended to the foul stripe, where the Wildcats hit 4-of-16 from deep. The starting wing trio of Stanley Johnson, T.J. McConnell and Gabe York shot a combined 1-for-11 and that will have to change.

The wing duo gets its first big challenge: The Matadors have a short roster with a few players being suspended for a violation of team rules and breaking university policy, but power forward Stephen Maxwell and swingman Stephan Hicks will be back. CSUN fell 79-58 against San Diego State in their season opener, but the forward duo shined as it did last year, when the 6'7, 220 pound Maxwell averaged 17.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game and HIcks, at 6'6 and 200 pounds, averaged 17.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Hicks, a talented midrange shooting, will be an interesting test if Miller elects to start Stanley Johnson again, but in any case he and Hollis-Jefferson will have their hands full. It's the first opportunity to show why they're considered one of the most imposing wing duos in the game, but Brandon Ashley will also get a crack at a talented scorer in Maxwell.

Will Miller develop the bench?: It might be getting ahead to wonder how the bench will develop when Miller's main criticisms were directed at the first seven players. If Arizona can get off to a hot start and an aggressive look with the starting unit, a large lead would allow Miller to go deeper into his bench that he did on Friday -- Hollis-Jefferson and Elliott Pitts were the only second unit players to play more than 15 minutes. Parker Jackson-Cartwright perhaps earned himself more run, but Miller could also look to get Pitts and Dusan Ristic more involved. That only happens if the starters prove they've fixed their issues of starting slow.


6 p.m. MST


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