The Wildcats performed like they have for much of the season. They struggled early in the contest, only to rise to the occasion down the stretch and pull off a close victory. While their offense failed to put forth one of their more impressive performances of the season, the defense they played was an encouraging sign. The Huskies entered the game as one of the better three-point shooting teams in the conference, but were held in check from beyond the arc.
It was a rough offensive evening for both sides, but Arizona executed just enough down the stretch to come away with an important road victory. Defensive play was what stood out Thursday, but there were numerous other factors that came into play in UA's victory.
The Wildcats' defensive effort allowed them to overcome another ugly start. Their 11 turnovers in the first 12 minutes of play were the biggest reason they fell behind by double digits early in the first half, but the big lead was very short-lived for UW. The contest became much closer in the final six minutes of the first half and that's when Arizona really started to calm down offensively.
By that point, UA's defense had figured out the Huskies' offense. The Wildcats defended the outside very well – holding Washington to 1-for-12 shooting from three-point range – which ultimately stunted UW's approach and hindered its chances to hold off UA. On top of that, the Huskies were eventually able to catch up to Arizona in the turnover department as they seemed to play carelessly with the ball often. The Wildcats took advantage of their opponent's shortcomings on offense, especially late in the contest.
The struggles of C.J. Wilcox
One of the Pac-12's elite scorers, Wilcox scored just 11 points and spent much of the contest in foul trouble. He collected his fourth early in the second half and Washington was forced to play a long stretch without him on the floor. His absence ultimately caught up with the Huskies in the long run, as UW lost by just four.
Without their leading scorer, the Huskies' offensive woes were magnified as they couldn't find anyone to pickup the scoring load in his absence. Wilcox tried to put his team on his back down the stretch, but Washington was so out of rhythm offensively that his presence didn't make much of a difference.
Johnson has been UA's best all-around player this season and is considered to be one of the top defenders in the Pac-12. He did a little bit of everything in Seattle on Thursday night and his scoring output was crucial down the stretch. The sophomore compiled 13 of his 15 points in the second half, providing UA's offensive attack with a much needed spark at the most crucial point of the ballgame.
What deserves even more credit are Johnson's defensive efforts. Finishing the game with three steals to go along with three blocks is impressive, but his play against one of the conference's best players made an even bigger difference. As noted, Wilcox scored just 11 points, but that was largely due to how Johnson clamped down on him. Wilcox finished the game 4-for-16 from the floor; including 1-for-5 from three-point land.
The freshman center had his second consecutive strong outing, finishing with 10 points and eight rebounds. Fans are hoping it's a true sign of improvement from the young freshman, who has struggled throughout much of his first season of college basketball. Facing one of the more experienced centers in the Pac-12 in Aziz N'Diaye, Tarczewski held his own. He didn't show any signs of intimidation and displayed a physical streak which led to several trips to the foul line.
If the Wildcats can continue to gain improvement from their freshman center, it will add a whole new dimension to their offensive attack.
Sean Miller did a better job of keeping his team composed down the stretch than Lorenzo Romar did. The most prime example was the in-bound play with just a shade over 10 seconds left where Abdul Gaddy passed the ball to N'Diaye in the corner, who proceeded to take a three-point attempt he probably shouldn't have. Gaddy admitted after the game that he was unaware N'Diaye was even on the floor until he passed him the ball, indicating at least one player was not focused at a very decisive moment of the contest.
Washington did a poor job at the charity stripe, which included multiple missed attempts in the closing moments of the ball game. The Huskies lost the game by four, but could have easily won the affair had they been more successful in their free throw shooting. They failed to connect on seven of their 17 free throw attempts, while Arizona was a bit more consistent, knocking down 14 out of 19 from the line.
While the Wildcats turned the ball over often in the first 12 minutes of the game, they really made a point to avoid coughing up possession for the rest of the contest. Out of UA's 17 turnovers, only six came in the final 28 minutes of play. It was at that point in the contest when Arizona started playing a more coherent brand of basketball, especially on the offensive end of the floor.
Saturday evening's matchup between Arizona and Washington State was an affair that saw one squad exert its dominance over the other. The Wildcats were a vastly superior team to the Cougars and it reflected in the score throughout the majority of the contest. UA's defense was too smothering and its offense played efficiently in the winning effort.
The Wildcats had numerous obstacles to overcome on their way to victory. They lost Kevin Parrom in the first half when a punch he threw at Washington State's DaVonte Lacy got him ejected. On top of that, three of Parrom's teammates spent much of the contest in foul trouble. None of that seemed to bother UA, who continued trucking along on its way to a double-digit victory.
Numerous factors played part in Arizona's win. Certain players stepped up and the Wildcats limited the amount of errors that have surfaced in past games.
One game removed from committing 17 turnovers, Arizona limited the amount of times it lost possession on Sunday as the team turned the ball over just nine times. The Wildcats struggled in recent contests with their ball movement, but Washington State provided little resistance defensively and UA did an impressive job of taking care of the ball.
Each of the four first-year players made positive contributions to the Wildcats victory. Center Kaleb Tarczewski reached 10 points for the third straight contest and had a perfect night from the free-throw line, where he knocked down all four attempts. Brandon Ashley also reached double figures, scoring 10 points, and he also did a good job on the boards.
Grant Jerrett made his presence felt on the defensive end of the floor where he blocked four shots and guard Gabe York played a few minutes as well. The continued improvement of the young freshman is vital to the team's development and will be needed if Arizona wants to play basketball deep into March and early April.
The sharp-shooting of Solomon Hill
The senior did all of his scoring damage in the first half, when he knocked down six three pointers and finished with 18 points. Hill capped off the first 20 minutes of play with a prayer from the top of the other key that banked in and gave the Wildcats a 14 point lead. Prior to that, Hill was on fire, knocking down shots from long range whether he had a hand in his face or not.
The scoring of Mark Lyons
Lyons had his struggles early, but his play down the stretch was crucial and allowed the Wildcats to hold a comfortable lead. The senior finished the game with 20 points in just 23 minutes of playing time, but compiled 13 of the those points in the final nine minutes of the contest.
Teams have been able to beat the Wildcats from three-point range at numerous points throughout the season, but Saturday's affair marked the third straight contest where they defended the outside shot exceptionally. Washington State was held to 6-for-19 from beyond the arc, which was an area the Cougars needed to be more successful in to come away with an upset. Instead, Wazzu struggled from the outside and was never able to close the gap.