No. 6/5 Arizona Cruises Past Long Beach St., 91-57 - The Explorer: Sports

No. 6/5 Arizona Cruises Past Long Beach St., 91-57

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Posted: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 9:48 am

Arizona hounded ballhanders, collapsed on post players, turned every shot into a struggle.

The Wildcats' defense is their calling card and when it's going good, they can be unstoppable.

Freshman Aaron Gordon had 14 points and 10 rebounds, Brandon Ashley added 16 points and No. 6 Arizona used a dominating defense to roll over Long Beach State 91-57 on Monday night.

''Our identity is to be an outstanding defensive team,'' Arizona coach Sean Miller said. ''That feeds into our fast break and you saw that.''

After a so-so opener against Cal Poly, Arizona (2-0) looked more like the team everyone expected, dominating Long Beach State from the opening tip.

Gordon and T.J. McConnell, who had eight assists, got it started by keying a big opening run.

Gabe York, a little-used player a year ago, kept it going by dropping in four 3-pointers, finishing with 14 points and six assists. Nick Johnson added 14 points and Arizona shot 58 percent from the field.

The defense trigged it all.

Playing Miller's aggressive man defense to near perfection, the Wildcats barely gave Long Beach State room to breathe, much less get off good shots, while racing out to an early double-digit lead.

Arizona's defense flustered the 49ers, leading to numerous airballs and shots that caromed high off the glass.

Long Beach State (1-1) hit a few shots in the second half when the game was well out of reach, but still finished at 27 percent from the floor and made 5 of 23 from 3-point range.

''Arizona came out with a passion and they came out playing harder than us,'' said Dan Jennings, who led Long Beach State with 16 points. ''They did well.''

Arizona came into this season loaded with expectations, largely because of the talented players they added to a strong core - namely Gordon and McConnell.

Gordon came in with the potential, an unfreshman-like frame and work ethic accentuating his athleticism.

McConnell was the known quantity. A transfer from Duquesne who sat out last season, he gave the Wildcats an immediate dose of smarts and grit, not to mention everywhere-at-the-same-time defense and the pass-first point guard they had been missing.

Gordon had a solid opener, getting 13 points and 10 rebounds in the win over Cal Poly, and McConnell had six assists, though Miller would have liked him to look for his shot more.

Together, they got the rout started against Long Beach State.

McConnell got it rolling by snaring a pass near the baseline and floating an alley-oop pass to Gordon, who threw it down emphatically.

McConnell set up York for a 3-pointer with an up-fake, while Gordon scored on a putback and an acrobatic reverse.

Gordon stroked in a 3-pointer, on a feed from McConnell, and a putback at the buzzer for 11 points at halftime. McConnell had seven assists and York hit four 3-pointers for 12 points to help Arizona build a 44-18 halftime lead.

''They got a couple of fast break points and that got going,'' said Long Beach State guard Mike Caffey, who had six points on 2-of-10 shooting after scoring 27 in the 49ers' opener. ''After that, they kept rolling.''

It shouldn't have been much of a surprise.

Long Beach State lost to Arizona 94-72 at the McKale Center last season and has just four returning players this season after coach Don Monson did not invite back three who were expected to be contributors this season.

In rebuilding mode, it was always going to be a tough matchup for the 49ers.

And it was.

Long Beach State missed 12 of its first 13 shots - three on airballs - and was down 10 in the first 7 minutes. The 49ers shot 5 of 35 in the first half, including 1 of 14 from 3-point range, leaving no chance of a comeback.

''We talked about our identity as a team and we want to be a strong defensive team and we want to be able to get out on the break,'' Johnson said. ''When we push the ball, we've got a lot of people who can finish in transition. We know that's going to a big part of our game all year.''

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