UA’s Nick Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Long Beach State forward Dan Jennings reach for a rebound in the second half of Arizona’s 91-57 win.
Sean Miller probably has no idea what comes first, the chicken or the egg, but he’s pretty sure that good defense comes before good rebounding.
Then comes the fast break.
No. 6-ranked Arizona excelled at all three on Monday night in a 91-57 win over visiting Long Beach State at McKale Center.
Arizona’s feisty defense shut down the 49ers for the duration, so much so that LBSU’s 42.9 shooting percentage in the second half made it seem as if the team could not miss.
The Wildcats held the 49ers to an absurd 14.3 shooting percentage in the first 20 minutes, just 5 for 35 from the field. It wasn’t that Arizona put the clamps on, it was a vice grip.
Unrelenting, unyielding, almost unbelievable.
“Our identity is to be an outstanding defensive team,” Miller said. “That feeds into our fast break in the open court. You saw that tonight.
“Getting stops, making great defensive plays, that’s going to make us a great offensive team as well. That’s where it starts for us.”
Then came the rebounds, and Arizona cleaned up the glass the way that Sean Miller has sought —and demanded — out of the Wildcats.
Arizona out-rebounded Long Beach State, 45-29, though the team was disappointed that it let the 49ers grab 15 offensive boards.
Surprisingly, this wasn’t the best the Wildcats have seen out of themselves.
Such is life when the expectations have been raised.
“There have been some practices where we’ve done a lot better,” said guard Nick Johnson, who had five rebounds to go along with his 14 points.
“They got a lot of offensive rebounds in the first half, I think they had seven or eight. But as far as points, yeah, we did a good job.”
Miller lauded freshman Aaron Gordon’s performance on the glass, as he had 10 rebounds for the second straight game. Miller said that he expects that kind of performance from Gordon throughout the year, on account of his “amazing second jump.”
Kaleb Tarczweski went from zero rebounds in the team opener, a 73-62 win over Cal Poly, to 10 rebounds on Monday, and Brandon Ashley had seven.
“We’re a good rebounding team,” Miller said. “Doesn’t mean we’re going to do it every game. Tonight we were tested. Long Beach State may be deficient in a few areas but their ability to crash the glass rivals a lot of teams. It was a good test for our big guys.”
And the little guys, as well.
Johnson’s five boards and backup guard Gabe York’s four rebounds helped speed the game up for the Wildcats, and Miller said that was the tempo the team would like to see.
That, in turn, benefited the bigs, who scored in droves. Gordon, Tarczweski and Ashley combined for 39 points, and freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added seven off the bench.
There were hoops, scoops and numerous alley-oops, as the Wildcats flew all over the outmatched and outsized 49ers.
“Coach Miller says this all the time, we might be the biggest team to play at Arizona,” Tarcweski said. “We’re definitely a lot bigger than last year. I think we really go into the game with that mentality that we should get every board.
“Defensive rebounding is key to the fast push.”
Again, however, that begins on the defensive side of the ball, and it seems as if Miller’s words are sinking in.
“As a team we talked about our identity, and our identity is a strong defensive team,” Johnson said.
“We want to be a top-10 defensive team in the country.”