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Going strong: Hollis-Jefferson’s dunk highlights victory for No. 1 Arizona

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson celebrates his big dunk in the first half. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson celebrates his big dunk in the first half. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

How can tell your top-ranked college basketball team had a good, happy evening?

When you spend the post game debating which player had the better dunk.

The Arizona Wildcats, playing their first game after elevating to No. 1 in the polls, looked the part against New Mexico State, winning 74-48 at McKale Center on Wednesday night while providing multiple highlight moments for SportsCenter.

But it’s not really much of a debate.

The Pac-12 Networks, which telecast the game, tweeted that Nick Johnson’s fast-break 360-degree dunk was its play of the game. On most nights, yeah.

On Wednesday night, no.

The play of Arizona’s 10-0 season came late in the first half with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson dribbling beyond the 3-point arc, angle right, guarded by Daniel Mullings.

Jefferson’s cross-over dribble to his right hand left Mullings in the dust and then he went up, up, up, crashing down on Renaldo Dixon, forever posterized, while finishing the slam with his left hand and eliciting gasps from the crowd.

Plus the foul.

“It was just playing hard like I always do, giving it my all,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “We had just come out of a timeout and Coach was like, ‘Attack!’ I was like, ‘Oh, God, I gotta do it.’”

Sporting News called it the Dunk of the Night in college basketball. ESPN ranked it No. 2 on its Plays of the Day.

Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell said it was … meh.

OK, so he was just having a little bit of fun with Hollis-Jefferson, who was sitting to his left at the postgame press conference. He was asked to compare and grade the dunks from Hollis-Jefferson and Johnson.

If you can kid with each other, that means you like each other, right?

“I would say Rondae’s was all right,” McConnell deadpanned.

Brandon Ashley, also at the table, chimed in. “That’s crazy,” he said.

“Nick’s was … that was all right,” McConnell added. “I’ve seen better.”

“Wow, dude,” Hollis-Jefferson said to his point guard. “You hurt my feelings.”

Kaleb Tarczewski was 5 of 5 from the field and scored 14 points. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Kaleb Tarczewski was 5 of 5 from the field and scored 14 points. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Hollis-Jefferson, the “other” of Arizona’s freshman McDonald’s All-Americans behind Aaron Gordon, is a rim-stuffer and box-score filler. He finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal in 23 minutes.

He’s a 6-7 live wire with a unique set of skills. Who does he most remind you of in Arizona history? A little Richard Jefferson? Maybe some part Hassan Adams? Longtime UA basketball writer Steve Rivera of the Tucson Citizen asked Lute Olson that question via text during the game.

Olson’s reply: Andre Iguodala.

Yeah, that works. (Also see tweet from Iguodala below.)

Arizona coach Sean Miller called Hollis-Jefferson’s performance “outstanding.”

“He made big plays. He did it in all facets of the game, offensive and defensive rebounds. Great assists. … He did everything. It was great to see.

“He’s learned how to practice better. His intent was good, but there’s a big difference between high school and college. But Rondae has become one of our best practice players now. He’s such a talented, intelligent kid.

“You can see he keeps getting better and better and better. Where his improvement has started is in practice every day.”

But the dunk wasn’t practice. It was uncoachable. Instinct and uncommon ability.

“I think he just grabbed the guy, took him up, put him in the rim with the ball,” Miller said. “That’s what you call going strong.”

Arizona started slowly before adjusting to the Aggies’ kitchen-sink defense. They mostly played triangle-and-two against Wildcats, unwisely leaving Ashley (15 points, 3 of 3 3-pointers) too open.

“That will work for a little bit,” Miller said of the triangle-and-two, “but that’s not going to work over the long haul. We have too much firepower, and some of the shots we missed we’re great shots.”

NMSU played six defenses by Miller’s count, including a 1-3-1, man-to-man, a 2-2-1, a three-quarter-court press and a tandem-and-three scheme that he said he hadn’t seen since he was in grade school playing for the Blackhawk Bantams.

“You’re going to see a lot of college games, and I don’t know if you’re going to see that defense,” Miller said. “Once you get the hang of it, there’s a reason no one plays that defense.”

Whatever the Aggies tried, there was no defense against Hollis-Jefferson simply soaring above everyone.

“We need that energy from him,” McConnell said. “When he brings it, we’re a pretty good team.”

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Hollis-Jefferson’s dunk starts at about the 1:21 mark:

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