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February 6, 2014

Freshman sparks No. 2 Arizona past Oregon

For at least one night, it was Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to the rescue for second-ranked Arizona.

Playing their first game without Brandon Ashley, the Wildcats were resilient in a 67-65 win over Oregon Thursday at McKale Center.

Down 5 with 3:52 to play, the freshman's putback off an offensive rebound and assist on the ensuing Arizona basket sparked the final push. T.J. McConnell, who had struggled all night, then drilled the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:32 to play and Nick Johnson iced the game with five free throws over the final 47 seconds.

"When the chips are down, he rises to the challenge," UA head coach Sean Miller said of Hollis-Jefferson, who notched his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes.

But none were bigger than his board at the 3:12 mark - one of four on the night to give the Wildcats (22-1, 9-1 Pac-12) a 15-13 edge on the offensive glass. Hollis-Jefferson's rebounding total was a career high.

"He just goes out there and outworks people," McConnell said of his teammate.

The Wildcats won despite trailing in percentages on field goals (42.6 to 40), on free throws (65 to 54.3) and 3-pointers (35.3 to 25).

Johnson scored a game-high 18 points and added five assists.

Oregon (15-7, 3-7 Pac-12), which started 12 of 16 at the free-throw line but still trailed by 4, missed three of its last four attempts in the final 23 seconds. It won the battle of the boards, 40-35, but it was more about the timing of Arizona's hustle plays, Ducks head coach Dana Altman said.

"We did a lot of good things," Altman said. "It boiled down to a couple offensive rebounds and putbacks they got late."

The Ducks were paced by Joseph Young and reserve Jason Calliste, who scored 14 points apiece. But Young, Oregon's leading scorer, was just 5 of 13 from the field.

After a lull to start the second half - including eight consecutive points from Young - the Wildcats picked up the defensive effort and went on a surge.

Trailing 50-48, a York block and subsequent steal by Johnson sparked a breakaway Hollis-Jefferson dunk to tie the game with 10:23 to play and put the crowd into a frenzy.

But Oregon continued to find a way to stay in front. The Ducks went on a quick 6-0 spurt to go up 6 at the 8:30 mark and the lead was still 60-55 more than 4 1/2 minutes later.

But that's when Hollis-Jefferson stepped in for the rebound that helped swing the momentum. He then added a pass out of a double team for an easy Kaleb Tarczewski basket at the rim.

Tarczewski finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.

At first, Hollis-Jefferson said, the thought was to "bully" his way to the basket.

"But then when they tried to crowd me, I saw Kaleb open for a split second and I hit him," he added.

Within 60-59, it was then McConnell's turn to step up. The point guard was never in a rhythm because of early foul trouble and made just 2 of 9 shots - but it was a big 2.

Or, well, make that 3, as in a 3-pointer to push the Wildcats ahead, 62-60, with 1:32 remaining. It was the only lead change of the second half.

"It felt good as soon as it left (my hand)," McConnell said. "I kind of needed one to go in.

"If I stop shooting, our coaches and players have told me it's going to hurt our team."

The first 20 minutes was just as much about the Wildcats' substitution patterns and lineups as it was the action on the floor.

UA, playing its first game since Ashley's season-ending foot injury, went seven-deep on the roster with Elliott Pitts getting the call early. The Wildcats elected not to insert 6-10 center Matt Korcheck, instead playing with a smaller lineup for a bulk of the half.

But that is only because McConnell picked up three first-half fouls, Miller said. On the flip side, he added, Pitts had put together a solid six to eight weeks of practices.

Pitts and York attacked the glass, providing energy and combining for four rebounds and a pair of 3-pointers off the bench in the half. One of the better lineups was a combination of the two, along with Johnson, Gordon and Tarczewski.

The Wildcats turned an early 9-6 deficit into a 19-14 advantage - highlighted by a corner 3 from Pitts and York's assist to Johnson on an alley-oop.

"I think he played great," Johnson said of the freshman Pitts, who added three rebounds to his three points in 12 minutes. "I kept on telling him before the game: Don't come in and play scared. We all know what he can do in practice."

But the Ducks kept the game close, connecting on 4 of 7 3-pointers and hitting a number of tough, contested jump shots.

Trailing 31-29 and after McConnell's third foul, Oregon pulled in front on Dominic Artis' 3-pointer falling down and another Calliste 3-pointer - he had 11 first-half points off the bench - snapped a 35-all tie at the 1:44 mark.

UA went into the break down 38-37 after Hollis-Jefferson's putback on the offensive glass in the final seconds.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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