Brian Otskey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Friday night’s NIT Season Tip-Off championship game at Madison Square Garden where Arizona toppled Duke.
After most early-season games, especially in November, head coaches and players are very hesitant to make bold statements in public about what heights their team can reach by the end of the season. You’ll usually hear statements like, “we’re a work in progress; I like some things about our team; I’m proud of our guys; etc.” After his team’s impressive 72-66 win over Duke at Madison Square Garden last night, Arizona head coach Sean Miller was anything but conservative when discussing the potential of his 7-0 Wildcats. “I think we can be special, no question,” Miller said. “We have to be an elite defensive team. We have to be able to get stops. We have to be able to use our size rebounding.”
Special may be an understatement. It’s ironic because what Miller said they need to do to be special is exactly what the Wildcats did last night. Arizona took control of the game in the second half after trailing by three points at the break. Using its significant height advantage and defensive pressure, the Wildcats held the Blue Devils to 17 points over the first 17+ minutes of the second half to put the game away. It was a fantastic defensive performance against a team that entered the game averaging 90 PPG in seven games played. Freshman phenom Jabari Parker scored 19 points for Duke but Arizona limited him to the tune of a 7-of-21 shooting night, including an 0-of-5 mark from beyond the arc. Miller had his freshman star Aaron Gordon as well as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson take turns guarding Parker and it worked, keeping the 6’8” freshman out of sync all game long. “When you think about our team being versatile, two players really stand out, Rondae and Aaron, our two freshmen, because they are so interchangeable. But we can get better,” said Miller.