Wildcats Come Full Circle

It'll be easy for the casual fan to look at the score and the statistics from yesterday's victory and think that Washington is simply a good match up for Arizona while other teams such as UCLA, Washington State and USC aren't. While there may be some truth to that it's not much and of the little truth there is, I'm hardly buying it.

Arizona ran away from Washington in an 84-54 beat down in the McKale Center. The Wildcats (15-7, 6-5) shot 57.4 percent from the field and had five double-figure scorers in playing their most complete game in nearly a month. In fact, the last time Arizona looked this good was against, well, Washington.

Since their last meeting on January 4 the Wildcats had lost six of eight games. During the stretch, they lost to Washington State twice for the first time in the Olson Era, they suffered their worst home defeat under Olson (24 points) to North Carolina, they got swept in Los Angeles, and they lost a home game at the buzzer to the Oregon Ducks.

You could almost say that Washington (14-8, 4-7) took the brunt of Arizona's January frustrations all in one game and you wouldn't be exaggerating.

The last time these two teams squared off fans were treated to an NBA-like performance by both teams that featured up tempo play, high flying dunks, and clutch shots. Arizona shot 65.3 percent from the floor that day and their 96-87 win made it 12 in a row for the Wildcats.

Saturday's game looked a lot like the former. Well, for Arizona at least. The Wildcats got up the floor quickly on offense and with good ball movement were able to exploit a Huskies defense that looked out of whack from the start.

Arizona seemed to regain their shooting touch as well as their confidence in beating Washington again – something they couldn't do in a Thursday loss to Wazzu. Knowing what we know now, it's easy to deduce that Arizona is no better off today then they were a month ago in that they'll still most likely struggle to find wins against quality opponents. Right?


Six things occurred on Saturday that had nothing to do with Washington and everything to do with Arizona.

First, the Wildcats broke down Washington's man and zone defenses with excellent ball movement, off the ball movement, and just pure hustle. With 9:47 on the clock in the first half, Jawann McClellan and Marcus Williams worked the two man game to perfection. Their inside/out ball movement finally ended with Williams drawing the double team in the post and then kicking it back out to J-Mac for a wide open three. The shot gave Arizona a 22-16 lead. With 2:25 left in the half, Arizona swung the ball from one side of the court down to the baseline of the other where Budinger canned another wide open three pointer to extend the lead to 42-24. Another example came with 13 minutes to go in the second half when Arizona rebounded the ball, kicked it out, and sprinted up the floor making three crisp passes from Mustafa Shakur to Budinger to J-Mac for a thunderous dunk that made everyone in the crowd forget about J-Mac's sore knees for a second. The best part about the play is the ball never touched the floor.

The Wildcats finished the game with 21 assists on 31 field goals.

Second, Olson & Company had their best substitution pattern of the season – and it wasn't because it was a blowout. Olson went to his bench liberally throughout the first half when the game was still close. No single Arizona player saw more than 30 minutes of action, a far cry from the early Pac-10 days when all five starters were averaging 30 plus a game. J-Mac and Brett Brielmaier each played 20 minutes and Daniel Dillon played nine, giving the Wildcats a very solid and productive eight man rotation. The result was that Arizona never looked tired. They led by 19 at the break and outscored the Huskies by 11 in the second frame to win by 30.

On a side note, Olson giving Jordan Hill the nod over J-Mac was the coaching move of the season for Arizona. Like I said in the Friday Fizz, this should not be seen as a demotion for J-Mac. Actually, it's quite the contrary. J-Mac off the bench provides Arizona with the scoring spark they need to keep opponents off balance while Hill provides the security blanket Ivan Radenovic needs inside so he can concentrate on the things he does best- score and rebound – without having to bang all night against opponents' big men. The result: Hill had 16 points, 8 rebounds and five blocks; J-Mac had 15 points and 3 rebounds on efficient shooting; and Radenovic had 14 points and 8 rebounds in only 24 minutes.

Third, Arizona stopped settling for outside jumpers and started attacking the basket again. Arizona went 5-42 on three point attempts in back-to-back losses against North Carolina and Washington State. Against the Huskies those same looks were there. The difference is that Arizona wasn't taking the bait. With 17:52 remaining in the second half, Radenovic passed on an open look at a three, pump-faked, drove to the hole and got fouled. A week ago Radenovic would've launched the three and most likely missed.

For the game, Arizona shot 41.7 from behind the arc (5-12 3-PT FGS).

Fourth, Arizona got after it on defense. But it wasn't the usual, same old Arizona defense that sees the Wildcats get a lot of steals, force a lot of turnovers, but still have teams shoot a high percentage from the field against them because they would only play hard on defense for about 20 seconds out of a 35-seconds shot clock. No. No. Yesterday, Arizona simply locked down the Huskies. Arizona did have five steals and Hill blocked five shots, but the Huskies only had 14 turnovers and got off 63 shots. Yes, 63 field goal attempts. Arizona manned up all game and did a good job of not expending energy by picking up Washington players too far from the basket. From 30-feet and in Arizona was in lockdown mode. The Wildcats fronted the post and denied the passing lanes to the wings which clearly disrupted the flow of Washington's offense. For the game, the Huskies shot only 38.1 percent from the field in making 24 shots on their 63 attempts. Say what you will but that's the kind of defense that more and more Pac-10 teams are playing and winning with so it's good to see that the Wildcats finally got the conference memo.

Fifth, the coaching staff stepped up as well. From an administrative standpoint they did what they had to do to put Arizona in the best possible light to get the win. They sold J-Mac on the idea of coming off the bench and did so in a way that didn't break his confidence. They also substituted liberally and clearly had a game plan for the bench and stuck to it. From a pure coaching standpoint, the coaches were as demonstrative as ever on the sidelines. Josh Pastner looked like a corner man for a prized-fighter in a title bout. He was in players' faces as they came off the sidelines either congratulating them or simply motivating them. During play, he was encouraging the players and pacing the sideline as if Lute had given him the reigns for a while. The enthusiasm was much needed. I know it's been there from Pastner and all the coaches, but it hasn't been so in your face during the games as it was yesterday and for a team looking to break out of a funk it was a much welcomed sight.

Last but not least, Arizona finally stepped on an opponents' throat. They extended a 19 point halftime advantage to win by 30. Not once did the second half lead dip below 19 points. What's more, when Olson went deep into its bench with about seven minutes to go Arizona again saw no drop off. The entire team played hard for 40 minutes. The players played smart but loose and the coaches remained poised but weren't afraid to loosen their ties a bit and in the end, they were rewarded for their efforts.

People can say all they want about the Huskies, but if Arizona can continue to excel in these six areas it won't just be Washington who they beat from here on out.

Wildcat Authority Top Stories