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Oregon vs. Arizona final score: Flaws aside, Wildcats still a force

Every bad result assumed following Brandon Ashley's injury came to be, but the Wildcats have a plan.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Miller will say the Arizona Wildcats can't lose a rebounding battle to the Oregon Ducks. But to do so is not necessarily surprising with a shallow frontcourt.

He'll keep plugging the hole left by Brandon Ashley with a roster that doesn't have proven shooters, but he'll try to help those few shooters turn into better ones.

Miller must know this team will have to try that much harder to succeed on the glass. He has to accept it'll have that much tougher of a time on offense, where teams will pack the paint and force the Wildcats into jump shots.

On Thursday, a small but speedy Oregon team out-rebounded Arizona by four and forced Miller's crew to 40 percent shooting, 25 percent from three-point range and 54.5 percent on 35 foul shots. Ironically, the Ducks were the ones who missed crucial free throws in the final minute after UA took its first second-half lead on a T.J. McConnell three-pointer with 93 seconds left.

Arizona survived 67-65 with late defense and Oregon's lack thereof.

Guard Nick Johnson again struggled from the field by hitting just 5-of-16 shots, but he led the Wildcats with 18 points, five assists and two steals.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was the most impressive freshman on the floor, scoring 14 on 6-of-10 shooting and adding 10 boards. Kaleb Tarczewski earned double-teams as the Ducks sank into the paint while forcing UA to shoot jumpers, but the Arizona center still scored 10 first-half points. Leading into McConnell's go-ahead three-pointer, Zeus hit a bucket off an interior pass from Hollis-Jefferson with 2:25 that brought Arizona within 60-59.

And what to say about Gordon? The freshman has hit a monster wall.

The Ducks used Gordon's defender to double Tarczewski before he even had the ball at times, and when he decided aggression was the best answer, clanked his way to 2-of-11 foul shooting.

Gordon left the game after coming down awkwardly after a offensive putback attempt with 9:30 left in the game but returned later on with a slight limp after being diagnosed with a sprained ankle. Perhaps the bigger worry regarding the freshman forward comes in wondering how he breaks out of a mental slump that had him whispering sweet somethings to the ball on his many free throw attempts.

The McDonald's All-American finished with six points and eight rebounds, but now he must answer the question of whether he was putting up big numbers with other teams also having to worry about Tarczewski and Ashley. Now as the power forward rather than an oversized small forward, will his play drop off against players more apt to boxing out and out-muscling opponents on the interior?

Miller, seemingly knowing that Gordon would be an offensive liability, went to freshman guard Elliott Pitts over backup point guard Jordin Mayes or forward Matt Korchek. Pitts joined guard Gabe York in a seven-man rotation to stretch the floor, add a little bit of length on defense, and crash the boards.

York scored eight points and added three assists -- one was a highlight-reel alley to Johnson's oop -- while Pitts added three points and three rebounds. Oop

At a wider angle, the win was monumental for the Wildcats' psyche. They have to know how and if they can win without Ashley, and Thursday was a fine start.

Arizona held a very good offensive squad 20 points below its season average and to 43.4 percent shooting, and Miller revealed his hand in doing so. While he was stubborn by putting Gordon in a lineup where his lack of shooting hurt tremendously, the UA coach is also clearly aware that he needs to build up confidence his young star, not to mention, York, Pitts and Hollis-Jefferson.

Either way, it's a lot more interesting moving forward. For Arizona, it'll get a lot tougher. Against a big frontline of Oregon State this weekend, other flaws could be revealed.

At least a sense of urgency will come of it -- and at least the Wildcats remain in control of the Pac-12.