Tucson, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - Finishing off a two-game homestand to begin the season, the sixth-ranked Arizona Wildcats will be matched up with the Long Beach State 49ers at the McKale Center on Monday.
Led by huge games from Mike Caffey and Dan Jennings, the 49ers are entering this contest with a 1-0 mark after besting Hawaii Pacific, 71-59, in their season opener. Although the 49ers shot poorly as a team (.348) they made up for it by dominating the glass (56-30), while forcing 19 turnover from Hawaii Pacific. Long Beach State finished 19-14 overall last season but lost five of its final seven games to close out the year and now the squad is trying to replace last year's leading scorer and rebounder James Ennis (16.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg). In its final two games before heading to San Juan for the Puerto Rice Tip-Off, the 49ers will face Loyola Marymount and Kansas State.
Aaron Gordon's much anticipated debut was a successful one. The freshman forward, who has been grouped with Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker as some of the most touted recruits in recent memory, had a double-double in his first career game, as the Wildcats topped Cal Poly 73-62. Gordon was one of six players to score in double figures in the victory, while T.J. McConnell looked comfortable in running the point after transferring to Tucson from Duquesne. Arizona was a 27-8 team last year and one of the final 16 teams standing in the NCAA Tournament. Thanks to Gordon, expectations are extremely high again this season. Arizona will take on San Diego State on the road before taking part in the NIT Season Tip Off.
Even though LBSU has had some strong squads in its history the 49ers have never been able to beat Arizona with four losses in as many tries against the Wildcats.
Caffey and Jennings did a good job of making LBSU fans begin to forget about Ennis. Caffey took up the scoring mantle as he poured in a career-high 27 points in the opener, while Jennings cleaned up the boards at an impressive rate as he brought down 17 rebounds to go with 10 rebounds. David Samuels (11 points, eight rebounds) also get in the mix as the third member of the team to scoring in double figures. Caffey is the only player returning from last year's squad to have averaged in double figures. Even though the trio played well the 49ers did not excel as a team offensively, especially in the second half when they shot at just a 29.4 percent rate from the field. Shooting from 3-point range was also a weakness, as LBSU netted just six shots from beyond the arc in 27 attempts. The 49ers also recorded 14 assists. Ball movement was not a strength last year when the 49ers were 10th in the Big West in assists (12.1 apg).
Although his numbers were not as flashy as those from Parker, who scored 22 points in his season debut, Gordon certainly showed why he has been so highly touted entering this year. Gordon hit 5-of-11 shots from the floor and also showed an impressive ability to protect the rim on defense as he racked up four blocks. McConnell was not as heralded and his debut as a Wildcat was not overly impressive when looking at the stat sheet. However, he handed out a team-high six assists. Brandon Ashley (11 points, nine rebounds) gave a preview of how dangerous the Wildcats could be up front this year, assuming he and Gordon continue to produce at a high level. Meanwhile, Rondae Hollis- Jefferson gave the Wildcats a nice effort off the bench with 10 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes of play. As a team Arizona looked perfectly in sync, as the Wildcats knocked down 57.1 percent of their shots from the field, while outscoring the Mustangs, 36-16, in the paint. Improvement from the free throw line (20-of-36) will be needed going forward.