No. 1 Arizona pulls away to beat Washington 71-62
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona coach Sean Miller likens the top-ranked Wildcats’ size and power to a running team in football: The longer an opponent plays against it, the more it wears down.
The Washington Huskies found out just what he means.
Nick Johnson scored 24 points, Aaron Gordon had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Arizona pulled away late for a 71-62 victory Saturday.
“Sometimes the story line is a little different at halftime than it is at the end of the game because you can kind of wear that opponent down and the carries that go for 2 or 3 yards in the first half break wide open in the second,” Miller said. “You just have to stay with it.”
The Wildcats did and are off to their best start since the 1931-32 team opened with a school-record 16 straight wins.
It wasn’t easy.
One of the best rebounding teams in the country, Arizona (15-0, Pac-12) had a hard time keeping the Huskies off the glass or from scoring inside in a tight first half.
The Wildcats turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, particularly on the perimeter, to stretch the lead in the final 3 minutes.
Arizona had 10 dunks among its 24 field goals and hit 7 of 8 free throws in the final 2 minutes.
T.J. McConnell overcame a poor-shooting game with six assists, five rebounds and four steals while teaming with Johnson to hound the Huskies at the top of Arizona’s defense.
“That’s what good teams do, nettle through adversity,” said Johnson, who hit all six of his free throws in the closing minutes. “They are a good team. Their record may not sure it, but they are good. We knew that going into the game. We made our run and made our shots when it counted.”
The Huskies didn’t.
Washington (9-6, 1-1) kept up with the bigger Wildcats well into the second half behind good shooting and strong inside play.
The Huskies went cold down the stretch, though, shooting 10 of 33 in the second half while missing all seven of their 3-point attempts.
C.J. Wilcox led Washington with 20 points. Perris Blackwell had 12 points and 12 rebounds and knocked around Kaleb Tarczewski inside, helping to hold Arizona’s center to seven points on 2-of-10 shooting.
“When they took the lead, I feel that we got away from the things we were trying to do defensively and offensively,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We had to hit home runs every time we took possession of the ball and I don’t think we accomplished that.”
Washington had a tough non-conference schedule and opened Pac-12 play with an impressive road win, racing past Arizona State early for a 76-65 victory.
The Huskies faced a much stiffer challenge against Arizona.
The Wildcats have been No. 1 for a month and have one of the nation’s best defenses behind a group of versatile, athletic players.
Arizona was at its defensive best in its conference opener Thursday, setting McKale Center records by holding Washington State to 25 points, nine field goals and 20 percent shooting.
The Huskies were able to keep up with the Wildcats in the first half, scoring inside and outrebounding them to lead 35-33.
“We missed a couple easy shots that we normally convert and we need to convert in the future,” Miller said.
Washington took a quick six-point lead in the second half, but Shawn Kemp Jr. fouled out with 10:37 left, leaving their Huskies with one of the few players who could match up with Arizona’s size.
The Wildcats also turned up the defensive pressure, holding the Huskies to one field goal in a 10-minute span.
Gordon was quiet in the first half and, at the urging of his coaches, became more aggressive, scoring some big baskets while grabbing 10 rebounds.
Johnson was good at both ends, following a 360 dunk in the first half with a couple more acrobatic moves in the second. He and McConnell also keyed Arizona’s defensive effort in the second half, creating havoc and steals with their constant pressure.
Washington point guard Nigel Williams-Goss had a hard time shaking Arizona’s two best perimeter defenders, hitting 4 of 12 shots for nine points while committing three turnovers.
“It’s tough going against their defense with our small lineup, but we just needed to work,” Wilcox said. “In the second half, they were relentless and that’s one of the main reasons why they are No. 1 in the country.”