Forward Aaron Gordon swats away Cal Poly forward Brian Bennett’s shot in the first half, one of four blocks on the night for the touted freshman from San Jose, Calif., in his UA debut.
His first game in the books, and it was a good one, Aaron Gordon took a seat in the post-game press conference.
Without a padded fold-out chair, he was forced to sit on a taller wicker chair.
“I’ll be all right,” Gordon said. “No splinters.”
He certainly won’t get any on the bench this year.
Gordon opened his Arizona career in a flurry, racking up a double-double in 33 minutes as the Wildcats topped Cal Poly 73-62 Friday night at a sold-out McKale Center.
The freshman forward finished with a team-high 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, flashing his athleticism and, at times, his youth: He committed two turnovers and went just 2 for 6 from the free-throw line.
“I missed a little too many free throws, but like I was saying before the game, I was a little nervous,” Gordon said. “What I was saying to get the nerves out, basketball is basketball is basketball is basketball. No matter where you’re at, basketball is the same game.”
It took Gordon until warm-ups to shake the nerves, he said. Once he controlled the opening tip, he was in complete control of most everything.
Gordon’s first career points came on a tip-in rebound putback after a Gabe York floater bounced in and out 2 minutes 21 seconds into the game. Two minutes later, he snuck out to the left side of the perimeter, took a pass from T.J. McConnell and dropped in a three-pointer.
“I came to Arizona for that reason: To help my jump shot,” Gordon said. “It’s what I’ve been doing, it’s what I’m going to work on.”
Running back down the court, he holstered his hands. The party continued soon after: He added his first blocked shot, and then his first slam dunk.
Not a bad opening five minutes.
“It re-established the fact that I can play this game,” Gordon said. “I have a lot of people around me supporting me; everybody has complete faith in me. From that point on, it was play as hard as I can.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller said Gordon “did a lot of things” in the win.
“He makes his free throws, (and) he has not a good night but a great night,” Miller said.
Ah, but those free throws.
The Wildcats made just 20 of 36 as a team (55.6 percent), as Gordon was just one of many wild Wildcats.
Perhaps Gordon had an excuse, though, as he has been plagued in recent weeks by a groin strain.
The injury has sidelined him off-and-on for the last 10 days — “It’s something that can linger, so we tried to be smart and protective and held him out,” Miller said — and Gordon said it was causing his back to compensate, and eventually ache.
“An ice bath,” he said, “and I’ll be all good.”
Miller said he thought that Gordon performed well for much of the game, before he “wore down a little bit.”
“I thought in the 33 minutes he played, 20 of the 33 you could see him at full speed,” Miller said. “And 10-13, he did the best he could.”
His best is pretty good, as the Mustangs found out, though there were still some freshman moments.
Midway through the second half, Gordon set a perfect screen for guard Gabe York and then rolled to the basket. Only he forgot to turn around, and York threw the ball directly to a Cal Poly player.
Earlier, Gordon attempted an alley-oop pass to a covered Nick Johnson that went nowhere.
“No question (there were mistakes) — he plays at a great pace, but a couple his decisions … he threw the lob to Nick, and he learned,” Miller said. “He can throw that to Nick when he’s wide open. Maybe in the game we were in, he doesn’t take that chance.”
A few mistakes, but certainly not enough to send him to the bench.
Don’t want him getting any splinters.
Leave that to post-game.