Monday, March 3, 2014
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — If this was Aaron Gordon's final home game at Arizona, and it almost certainly was, then he went out in style.
And took the Pac-12 regular-season championship trophy with him.
Gordon, expected to turn pro after a one-and-done freshman season, scored 19 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds to help the No. 3 Wildcats clinch the conference title with a 79-66 victory over Stanford on Sunday night.
"It feels good," Gordon said, "but it's not the final stop on our destination."
The Wildcats (27-2, 14-2), who won by just three at Stanford a month ago, completed an unbeaten home season in what also could have been the final McKale Center game for two other players: junior Nick Johnson and freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
T.J. McConnell scored 14 points, Gabe York 12, Johnson 11 and Kaleb Tarczewski 10 for Arizona.
After the game, the team was presented the championship trophy and cut down the net. When Gordon got his turn, the crowd chanted "three more years!" With Johnson, it was "one more year!"
Then coach Sean Miller spoke briefly to the crowd.
"The season is far from over," he said. "Let's hope this is the beginning of a long, long run."
Miller, who has brought in one standout recruiting class after another, knows all too well how short college careers are for the game's best players.
"The agreement that we have right now is to focus on the task at hand," he said. "Part of what's going to help these guys get what they want individually is to be on a spectacular team. Today's Pac-12 championship is part of that path."
He said that once the dust has settled this spring, he will sit down with the players and their families to map out the future.
"'What I hope is that anybody who would ever leave early would never be a second-round pick," Miller said. "That's a devastating blow to the next 50 years of their life."
Josh Huestis matched his career high with 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for Stanford (18-10, 9-7).
Anthony Brown added 14 points and Chasson Randle and Dwight Powell had 12 apiece for the Cardinal, who trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half and 25 in the second.
"They had a great environment and they played very well," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "They got off to a fast start and were able to maintain that throughout the game."
After struggling following the season-ending injury to Brandon Ashley, Arizona has won in impressive fashion in one-sided games against Colorado, California and Stanford.
"We're clicking on all cylinders right now," Johnson said. "We want to go down in Arizona history as one of the best teams ever."
The difference has been when the Wildcats have the ball.
"We've been a very consistent, dominant defensive team," Miller said. "Our offense is catching up."
The Wildcats scored the first four points of the game and never trailed.
After consecutive dunks by Gordon, Hollis-Jefferson made one of two free throws to make it 13-4. Powell's inside basket sliced the lead to 14-11, but Stanford never got that close again.
Elliott Pitts' 3-pointer started a 9-2 spurt that put Arizona ahead 23-13 when Johnson scored on a drive. Randle scored on a runner to cut it to 23-17, but Johnson sank a 3-pointer, then blocked Randle's shot at the other end. That led to Gordon's fast-break basket on a pass from Hollis-Jefferson, and it was 28-17.
McConnell's 14-footer in the lane followed by a pair of free throws from Matt Korcheck gave Arizona its biggest lead of the half, 41-23, with 1:27 to go.
Randle scored the final five points of the half on a 16-footer and a 3-pointer from the corner, cutting it to 41-28 at the break.
Brown's basket reduced the margin to 43-32 with 18:06 left but he missed the free throw for what would have been a three-point play.
Tarczewski's three-point play, on Stefan Nastic's fourth foul, put Arizona up 48-32 with 17:14 left. Nastic fouled out with 8:47 to go.
York's three 3s in a 2-minute span helped Arizona take its biggest lead, 68-43, on Hollis-Jefferson's basket 10:08 from the finish.
The Cardinal made it respectable with a 19-5 run that cut it to 73-62 on Huestis' stuff with 2:45 left.
Jordin Mayes, Arizona's only senior, started in what was his 127th game with the Wildcats.
Verne Harris went out with an apparent hamstring injury with 16:24 to play, leaving the game with two officials.