Matadors seek upset of second-ranked Wildcats

Nov 16, 2014 - 4:32 PM Tucson, AZ ( - In the opening round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational, the second-ranked Arizona Wildcats clash with the Cal State Northridge Matadors at the McKale Center.

This is the second straight ranked opponent for the Matadors, who tangled with No. 16 San Diego State on Friday night. They came away from that contest with a 79-58 loss, primarily due to an early deficit in the first half, as they entered halftime trailing 41-21. CSN is in its second season under Reggie Theus, who guided the team to a 17-18 record last season -- its largest win total since 2009.

The long journey to redemption for Arizona, which is attempting to crash into the Final Four this season after falling a point short of the national semifinals last spring, began with a 78-55 rout of Mount Saint Mary's. Although Sean Miller's squad lost Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson and freshman phenom Aaron Gordon, this season's squad has all the makings of a another 30-win juggernaut.

This matchup marks the first-ever between these two programs.

Last season, CSN was a formidable offensive group, scoring 76.8 points per game, which ranked second in the Big West. The Matadors did not have that type of offensive success against San Diego State, as they managed only 48 points on 41.4 percent shooting. They left points at the free-throw line, connecting on only 8-of-15 attempts.

Stephan Hicks and Stephen Maxwell returned to their roles as the top scoring threats. Both players averaged more than 17 points per game last season. Hicks tallied a team-high 16 against the Aztecs, while Maxwell posted a double- double with 15 points and 10 boards. The rest of the roster did not provide much assistance, with Aaron Parks netting nine points and no other player putting in more than five. Parks struggled to pull out the nine points, however, making good on only 2-of-8 shots in 34 minutes. The offensive struggles would be forgivable if the Matadors had played better defense, but they let the Aztecs connect on an even 50 percent from the floor. Defensive shortcomings hurt the cause last season when they allowed 77.5 points per game.

There are very few teams in the country with the type of frontcourt power and versatility that Arizona has. The Wildcats' power down low was evident against Mount Saint Mary's as they held a 40-16 advantage in points in the paint and a 35-28 edge on the glass. On top of that, they were the much more disciplined and aggressive squad, outscoring the Mountaineers, 27-4, in points off turnovers.

One letdown from the season-opening win was the play of freshman prodigy Stanley Johnson, who finished with only eight points and six rebounds in 24 minutes. Luckily, the more experienced members of the team showed up. Brandon Ashley, who missed the last half of last season with an injury, poured in a career-high 21 points on an impressive 9-of-10 shooting effort. Kaleb Tarczewski had 10 points to match 10 rebounds as well as three blocks, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tallied 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting off the bench. T.J. McConnell didn't score much (six points), but he filled the stat sheet all the same, producing seven assists, five rebounds and four steals.

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