Arizona basketball takes care of business, beats Washington State 73-56
In a meeting between the Pac-12’s first and worst, the No. 12 Arizona men’s basketball team took care of business at the McKale Center Saturday against Washington State, winning 73-56 to move into first in the conference, at least for the time being.
Arizona (23-4, 11-4 Pac-12) now holds a half-game lead over Oregon for first in the Pac-12, though the Ducks hold the tiebreaker. At times against Washington State (11-17, 2-13), the Wildcats played like the conference’s best as they shut down the Cougars defensively in the first half and led by double-digits for the final 29 minutes of the game.
At other times, though, Arizona played lackluster defense, stagnant offense and let the Cougars cut a 22-point UA lead in half. While the win will be all that shows up in the standings, the Wildcats’ performance in the second period of play left a bitter taste in the mouth of head coach Sean Miller.
He described the team defense as “terrible” and called out the effort and offensive poise of his players, with the exception of senior Kevin Parrom.
“We’ve worked very hard, we’ve practiced 80 times and I’m proud of a lot of things,” he said. “But right now, that’s not going to work. Guys gotta try. It’s disappointing.”
“We’re capable (of playing good defense),” Miller added. “It’s just a matter of can we do it.”
WSU hit 52.2 percent of its shots in the second half, a stark difference from its 6-for-17 shooting in the first. But right when the Cougars looked like they could break through the gap and make it into a real ball game, Parrom answered with three-straight makes from beyond the arc.
“I was patient,” said Parrom, who had a season-high 19 points. “I think these last couple games I’ve been trying to hunt for my shots instead of letting them come to me.”
“Once the first one went in for me I knew it was going to be a good night. I’m glad I had a good night.”
After putting up a goose egg and scoring 0 points the game before, Parrom’s hot hand couldn’t be contained. He went 6-for-7 from the field, including 5-for-6 from three, and led the team with seven rebounds. Miller said the Wazzu zone had some of the players scared in the second half and Parrom was the only player willing to take an open look.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, he was able to convert on the opportunities.
“I don’t know where we’d be in this game if Kevin didn’t play the way he played,” Miller said.
While Arizona played well on offense, both inside and out, it was from the deep ball where the team made the most damage. Senior Mark Lyons (14 points) added to the barrage of perimeter shots, with three of his own from beyond the arc and the team hit 11 of its 22 attempts.
The accurate shooting helped curb the late Washington State rally led by senior Brock Motum and sophomore Devonté Lacy.
Motum had a game-high 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting while Lacy scored eight of his 10 points in the second half of play. Despite the effort, Washington State never managed to finally break through the 10-point barrier.
But the fact that the Cougars were able to close the gap so quickly left Miller and Parrom searching for answers.
“We just have to be better defensively,” Parrom said. “Throughout the whole game we better play good defense, not just the first half, but the second half as well. We have to be consistent on defense if we want to be great.”
Arizona also had a little luck in the victory as well. Washington State is an average free throw shooting team (68 percent), but couldn’t find its touch from the line at the less than full McKale Center. The Cougars missed half (14-of-28) of their free throw attempts, making Miller count his blessing after the game.
“The final score was not indicative of our game because they missed an inordinate amount of free throws,” he said. “It’s one thing if they’re a pathetic free throw shooting team, but Washington State really isn’t. So we were fortunate with that.”
While the overall performance left Miller frustrated, Arizona still played well in most areas of the game. The Wildcats outrebounded WSU 30-23 and had 19 assists to 11 turnovers.
Center Kaleb Tarczewski, the only other player Miller complimented after the game, had a career-high 12 points (4-for-6 from the field) and added six rebounds.
“Lately the team has been doing a great job in getting me the ball in positions where I can score right around the basket,” Tarczewski said. “That’s really been helping me with my confidence and I think basketball is really all about confidence. I’m starting to find myself in the game.”