Brandon Ashley has played with strong teams at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif., and with fellow stars at Findlay Prep and on the Oakland Soldiers travel-ball team.
But after the Arizona Wildcats took apart Long Beach State on Monday, Ashley noted that “the chemistry that we have on this team is unrivaled against any team I’ve played on in the recent past.”
It showed in the box score. Arizona had 22 assists for its 34 field goals, an assist total that was higher than all but two UA games last season – when the Wildcats beat Charleston Southern and NAU in November.
“We’ve shared the ball really ever since we came together in late August and early September,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “Even our big guys and forwards, they do a good job of looking for each other. They’re more than willing to give the ball up.
“I thought Aaron Gordon had one of the best passes of the night, a bounce pass in transition. It shows you his talent in the open court.”
Arizona did have 11 turnovers, but some of those came when the Wildcats were in control of the game and were trying to keep having fun in transition.
“We tried a few home run plays as well -- we’re not perfect,” Miller said. “You know it’s amazing. Sometimes, when you try the spectacular you end up with a turnover. When you stay sound fundamentally it leads to a basket.
“But we’re good in the open court and we have to keep it that way. The more opportunities we give ourselves, that’s when we’re at our best offensively and the way we get into the open court is by being a great defensive team. We had a number of breakdowns but all in all it’s hard to argue with our defensive numbers tonight and that’s why we were able to get out in transition.”
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t one of UA’s four double-digit scorers but he filled his box score line with seven points, hitting 3 of 5 free throws, along with two assists, one block and three steals to one turnover.
He was especially effective, not surprisingly, on defense.
“Statistically, he didn’t have maybe as big a night but he’s a vital part of what we do,” Miller said. “He comes in and makes things happen. We went to the press one time and he got a great steal, got to the basket and scored. Rondae, he’s like the guys we’re talking about -- the open court is where he thrives.”
Gordon has pulled down exactly 10 rebounds in his first two college games. Miller was asked what a realistic average Gordon might have going forward.
Miller didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Right what he’s doing,” Miller said. “He has an amazing second jump like you don’t see many guys do. He jumps once, lands, and his second jump is so quick and he has a knack for the ball.
“It’s what he does well and it’s something he adds to our team because you have to realize at times he’s our small forward so he gives us a real advantage on the glass when he plays that position.”
Miller also said Gordon is “probably a better rebounder” than Derrick Williams was.
As good as Arizona was Monday, Miller is aware things could look quite different by Thursday. That’s when the Wildcats will play at San Diego State, which will be looking to avenge its championship game loss in the Diamond Head Classic last season – and do so in front of its rowdy home crowd.
“I don’t think we’re the best Arizona team we’re gonna be at be at all,” Miller said. “We don’t have the advantage of been there, done that. (Having) that favors those types of teams especially on the road. But we’re going to learn a lot about ourselves and certainly we’re going to try to win the game.
“Having said that, I’m going to tell you that I don’t think we’re going to play a more difficult game all year long than the one we’re about ready to play on Thursday, when you look at the success they’ve had, the team they have, the coaching staff, the crowd.”
Miller then recalled his first trip to SDSU with the Wildcats, in 2009-10.
The Aztecs won that particularly ugly contest 63-46.
“That was one of the biggest wakeup calls I’ve ever gotten in my life,” Miller said. “I felt like we were going to lose by 50 points the last time we were there. It was men against boys.
“We know this is going to be a stiff test. We’ve talked a lot about preparing for this game. Like the fact we’ve been on the road, playing Saint Mary’s (in a closed scrimmage), no doubt that will help us. But this time there will be people in the stands.”
Here's the official box score.