The Arizona Wildcats opened Pac-12 conference play Friday night at the California Golden Bears. Cuonzo Martin’s team has been a tough match up for the Cats in recent meetings and Friday night was no different. Along the way, in the final Arizona game of 2016, we learned some things.
THIS TEAM HAS SOME GRIT
Like in the Michigan State game to start the year, Arizona got punched in the mouth early and had a chance to fold up shop. After leading 6-4, the Wildcats saw Cal go on a 15-0 run which got the crowd frothy. Arizona responded with a 9-0 run to maintain contact.
But Cal continued to make things tough and led by six at the half. Finally, Arizona tied the contest a few minutes into the second half. And once they took the lead midway through the second half they never relinquished the cushion.
Arizona lost a tough one point game last season in Haas Pavilion (not to mention the loss at Cal in 2014 when Arizona was ranked no. 1) so it was nice to see a tough-minded performance to the final buzzer. Minus-6 in the first half and plus-11 in the second. That’s the adjustment you want to see, especially on the road.
PARKER JACKSON-CARTWRIGHT IS CRUCIAL FOR THE CATS
Yes, part of this is having any warm body available with the Cats as short handed as they find themselves. And two points, three rebounds, and four assists isn’t going to jump out of the box score. But when PJC is on the floor, good things seem to happen.
His steady hand running the point is key, especially in working the pick and roll game with Dusan Ristic and Lauri Markkanen. With a plethora of scoring wings who look to get buckets, PJC provides Arizona a reliable ball handler who looks to facilitate.
The Cats doesn’t necessarily have a true alpha with Allonzo Trier out, but there are a bunch of guys who can score some (four of five starters were in double digits and the fifth, Kadeem Allen had nine), so as long as PJC can contribute as a playmaker, everything else will run better.
THE TWIN TOWERS WILL BE A PROBLEM ALL YEAR
Ristic and Markkanen are both highly skilled 7-footers as Arizona fans know. Both are adept in the pick and roll/pop game and can effectively finish at the rim with either hand. And when both are on the floor simultaneously they create a very difficult matchup for opposing defenses.
These are smooth and athletic bigs, not the slow and clunky variety, and Markkanen adds the dimension of the 3-point shot. Both came out firing in this game and if not for the two big men, the Cats may not have scored for the first 10-plus disjointed minutes of the game.
Ristic and Markannen combined for 29 points and 14 rebounds on 13-of-22 shooting (including a sizzling 8-of-10 shooting for Ristic). If they can consistently deliver those types of numbers, these twin towers will keep a lot of league coaches up at night.
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