In his college debut, Aaron Gordon lived fully up to all that preseason hype.
The Arizona Wildcats freshman forward put up a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds – while also blocking four shots – to help the Arizona Wildcats overcome woeful 20-for-36 free throw shooting and beat Cal Poly 73-62 in their season opener tonight at McKale Center.
Arizona had five other scorers in double figures, with Gabe York scoring 12 while starting for the first time in his career.
Arizona did not start sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski after he started all 35 games last season, for reasons that were not specified before the game. The Wildcats also kept freshman guard Elliott Pitts out because of a wrist injury, according to a spokesman.
Instead, the Wildcats started both halves with a smaller lineup featuring York on the wing, and pushed Gordon inside to power forward.
Arizona's three-point percentage of 55.6 was worse than Wildcats put up all of last season, when their low point of 63.2 percent came at Utah.
While UA never trailed in the second half, after taking a three-point halftime lead, Cal Poly also would not fade away thanks in part to the three-point shooting of Kyle Odister and Chris Eversley.
Odister scored 21 points while making 7 of 14 three pointers while Eversley had 17 points and made 3 of 7 threes.
At halftime, poor free-throw shooting kept Arizona ahead only 37-34.
The Wildcats made just 8 of 18 free throws in the first half, with Aaron Gordon missing all three he took and T.J. McConnell missing his two attempts.
However, Gordon otherwise began his college career off to a quick start, with nine points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 17 minutes played before halftime.
Cal Poly’s Dave Nwaba led all scorers in the half with 12 points while Odister had nine while making 3 of 6 three-pointers.
The Mustangs trailed 11-4 early but kept it close throughout the rest of the half. Toward the end, Nwaba stole the ball from Jordin Mayes, scores to pull Cal Poly within 26-25, with 4:45 left in first. Nwaba later cut it to 31-29 before Gordon dunked in a rebound.
In the final minute, Eversley hit a three-pointer from the corner to pull Cal Poly within one point, 35-34, but Ashley hit a pair of free throws to put UA ahead by three at halftime.
Earlier in the half, the Wildcats ran off to the quick 11-4 lead thanks to Gordon’s splashy debut: During his first four minutes on the floor, he hit a three-pointer, made a basket on a rebound and blocked a shot.
But Cal Poly came back and took a brief 19-17 lead midway through the half thanks to 3 of 5 three-point shooting from Odister, who had three three-pointers and hit the winning two free throws when the Mustangs upset UCLA last season.
Tarczewski, who started all 35 UA games last season, entered the game at the first media timeout and played eight minutes before halftime. He finished with 11 points in 19 minutes but had no rebounds.
For Pitts, not playing also keeps him eligible for a redshirt year, should he opt for one. Players cannot play in any regular-season games if they want to take a non-medical redshirt year.
Pitts is projected as the 10th player in UA's rotation. UA coach Sean Miller has said Pitts has good long-term potential but needs more strength to compete effectively.
Pitts is listed at 6-foot-5 and 180 pounds. In UA's exhibition win over Augustana on Oct. 28, Pitts had three points on 1-for-4 shooting and five rebounds.
Without Tarczewski, the Wildcats went with a small lineup that featured Ashley at center, Gordon at power forward, Nick Johnson at small forward, York at shooting guard and T.J. McConnell at point guard.
The Wildcats will next face Long Beach State at McKale Center on Monday at 8 p.m.