LOS ANGELES — Gabe York always did have a certain comfort level at Pauley Pavilion. Sitting in it, at least.
Between visits with his grandparents and other assorted family members, the Arizona Wildcats sophomore guard from nearby West Covina estimates he watched about “60 or 70” UCLA games there over the years.
He was also a spectator for another one last season, failing to get off the bench as a freshman when the Wildcats lost 74-69 at Pauley on March 2.
So when York finally received a chance to get on the floor of the storied building on Thursday, during Arizona’s 79-75 win over UCLA, he carried himself like a veteran.
York made 3 of 5 three-pointers in the first half, poking a hole in the UCLA zone defense and helping the Wildcats carry a four-point lead into halftime despite the fact that UA was being out-rebounded and had eight turnovers at that point.
He didn’t make a field goal in the second half, but made a difference all over the court, while hitting two critical free throws with 12 seconds left that made it a two-possession game.
“We were winning at halftime because of him,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “He can shoot the ball. It’s not something he doesn’t do well. He made big shots against the zone tonight. And in the second half he made some other very good plays. In the 18 minutes, he was a very, very productive player for us tonight.”
York is now 6 for 11 from three-point range over the Wildcats’ three Pac-12 games so far, having shaken off a mini-slump that dated back to his six-minute appearance against UNLV on Dec. 7.
More than ever, he’s now a critical part of UA’s seven-man rotation.
His comfort at Pauley wasn’t about being in Pauley. It was about him.
“I’m not surprised at all,” junior guard Nick Johnson said. “We gave him all the confidence in the world, and he has all the confidence in the world. We want him when he gets open — it doesn’t matter when it is in the shot clock — to shoot the ball.
“We know he can change the game and that’s what he did. He also had a few huge passes and I think he also defended really well.”
A year ago, there was no telling if York would ever show that kind of confidence again. He had gone to a high-powered high school scorer, a Top 50 prospect according to Rivals.com, to a distant bench-warmer who struggled defensively and played in only 15 of UA’s 35 games.
Instead of transferring, York spent countless hours last summer in the Richard Jefferson Gym, hoisting up shots and, gradually, his confidence level.
Now, half a season later, playing a key role for an undefeated team, York actually says that was all a good thing.
“I think going through what I went through last year makes everything a lot better for me, knowing that I can actually play at this level and coach is giving me a chance,” York said. “It was just a matter of keeping my confidence up.
“I think it was the best learning experience. I feel like if I went somewhere else I wouldn’t have had as great of an opportunity as what I’m going through now.”