TUCSON, Ariz. — Versatile forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson plays many roles for the Arizona Wildcats, guarding point guards to power forwards. He filled another one Sunday, as a first-time starter this season, and made that work, too.
Normally the sixth man, sophomore Hollis-Jefferson had 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists to help the No. 8 Wildcats to a lopsided 73-49 victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils in the Pac-12 opener for both at McKale Center.
“Just a little bit,” said Jefferson of the difference in starting. “It gives you more of a chance to get your rhythm and a chance to get going quicker.
“Other than that, it’s the same beside getting your name called. Who doesn’t want that?”
Jefferson, who started six games last year, opened in place of freshman forward Stanley Johnson, who entered three minutes into the game and also had 13 points as the Wildcats recovered from their first loss of the season, 71-67, at UNLV on Dec. 23.
Backup center Dusan Ristic had nine points and celeb Kaleb Tarczewski had eight. Johnson had started the previous 13 games as has guard Gabe York, who was replaced by Elliott Pitts to open the game.
“We wanted to start off with a different group, a group that has done things the right way,” Miller said. “You want to reward guys who practice hard.
“And who we start the next game, I’m not sure. You learn the personality of your team, and this year we might have to move the lineup around some.”
Junior guard Gerry Blakes led the Sun Devils (8-6) with nine points, and guard Roosevelt Scott and forward Shaquielle McKissic had eight points apiece against a pressure man-to-man defense that took Arizona State out of its offense for long periods of the game.
The Sun Devils shot only 32.6 percent from the field and committed a season-high 22 turnovers, eight by Blakes, who started his third game at point guard and playing the first 11 at off guard.
“They are very talented, and they have great size and length,” Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. “So you don’t get a lot of easy things at the basket. Their guards do a good job applying pressure. Their wings are long and athletic. They are one of the most elite teams in the country.”
Playing its first game since the UNLV loss cost it five spots in the AP poll, Arizona used a 23-6 six that began six minutes into the game for a 45-25 halftime lead. The Wildcats led 56-31 when Ristic put in a follow with 13:40 remaining.
Arizona State got within 16 points after two 3-pointers by forward Jonathan Gilling but never drew closer. The Sun Devils were averaging 74.9 points a game coming in.
“Arizona State has scored this year,” Miller said. “They really shoot the basketball well. That was an excellent defensive performance by us. I believe that was the difference in the game.”
Sun Devils forward Savon Goodman, who averaged 15.8 points and eight rebounds in four games since gaining eligibility Dec. 16, was plagued by foul trouble and finished with two points in 19 minutes.
“They play together as a defense,” Goodman said. “We didn’t establish or execute our offense as well as we do. Give credit to them.
“That (turnovers) is something we have to look at. We players have to get better. We have to own up to that and know we have to take care of the ball.
NOTES: Arizona State beat UNLV 77-55 in Tempe on Dec. 3, the only common opponent as the teams enter conference play. … Arizona F Stanley Johnson and Duke F Jahlil Okafor are the only freshman in the power conferences who are averaging 14 points and six rebounds a game. Jefferson entered the game at 14.5 and 6.8. … Arizona won for the eighth time in the past 11 meetings with Arizona State, but the teams are 8-8 in the past 16. … With Arizona’s victory, the home team won all six Pac-12 openers.
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