Arizona basketball plays second-half game against Huskies
The 12th-ranked Arizona Wildcats have been lacking energy, especially at the start of games, and head coach Sean Miller knew it.
So Miller inserted senior forward Kevin Parrom into the starting lineup.
After a 70-52 win against Washington, you can call Parrom the Wildcats’ five-hour energy drink. Its Red Bull. Its shot of espresso.
The Wildcats came out of the gate sluggish again, only hitting three of their first 15 shots.
“We were really tentative on offense,” Miller said. “We didn’t cut. We didn’t pass. We just didn’t look right.”
And Parrom didn’t contribute much on the stat sheet overall — zero points, five rebounds, two assists, one block and two turnovers in 26 minutes.
But with 50 seconds left in the first half and Arizona (22-4, 10-4 Pac-12) holding a slim 30-25 lead on the Huskies, Parrom got into a scrap with Washington center Aziz N’Diaye in a fight for a rebound.
The whistle blew, but Parrom and N’Diaye kept jostling for the ball.
The domineering 7-footer overpowered 6-foot-6 Parrom, lifted him up and shoved him into several photographers seated on the baseline.
A technical foul followed, and Solomon Hill converted both free throws.
“He always brings energy,” Hill said of Parrom. “He’s always gonna play hard, regardless of the situation. Kevin’s a guy you can always count on to play hard and get the rebounds.”
From there, the Wildcats looked more like the 12th-best team in the country than they have at any time since non-conference play.
After the technical, Arizona outscored Washington 19-4 in the next six minutes and 18 seconds, and then 45-32 overall.
In the second half, the Wildcats held their first 20-plus point lead since Jan. 26 against USC and shot 14-of-23 (60.9 percent) from the field. Arizona shot 24-of-51 (47.1 percent) overall and outrebounded UW 43-37.
“It was great,” said Hill, who scored a game-high 19 points. “There’s been a lot of games where our team’s fallen back in the second half. Coach [Miller] has said we’re not the same team in the second half that we are in the first half. It was a great feeling to know [Washington] wasn’t really pressing to come back.”
Of course, Hill and senior guard Mark Lyons certainly helped the cause.
With 11:16 remaining in the first half, Arizona trailed 13-8 after a Shawn Kemp Jr. dunk.
Then Lyons and Hill took the keys to Arizona’s offense and drove it to a dominant win.
The senior duo combined to score 20 of the Wildcats’ last 23 points in the first half, and Arizona went into the locker rooms with a comfortable 33-25 lead.
“The first three-and-a-half minutes we came out tentative on offense; we really didn’t get going,” Hill said. “Then myself and Mark really got it going. He was being aggressive. That just leaks to other guys, opens up situations for other guys. That’s when it started going.”
Lyons fouled out with 6:55 left in the final half, but the damage was already done by the time he exited. Arizona had a 57-38 lead and it wouldn’t get much closer. Lyons scored 14 points (12 in the first half) on 4-of-7 shooting, with four rebounds and three assists.
“Mark came out and gave us that spark,” sophomore guard Nick Johnson said, “and ever since then, we were rolling.”
Johnson had been struggling in recent games — he hadn’t scored in double digits since Arizona played UW in Washington on Jan. 31 — but Lyons played a part in getting Johnson out of his recent rut.
“He was telling me [at halftime], ‘What do I need to do to get you in it?’” Johnson said. “He got on the fast break and dished it to me and I got some easy buckets.”
Johnson was held scoreless in the first half, but early in the second Lyons found Johnson on a 2-on-1 fastbreak and the high-flying sophomore slammed it home right in front of Kemp Jr. Johnson finished with 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting, four rebounds, five assists and two blocks. He also helped hold Washington’s star C.J. Wilcox to 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
“We’ve had kind of a steady one, two, three punch of scoring,” Miller said. “When any one of those three — Mark, Solomon and Nick — aren’t double-figure scorers, that puts pressure on us. Nick got out in transition and got his confidence going.”