Wildcats finally get it right on Thursday
Well, as the saying goes, third time’s the charm. After two primetime flops against Pac-12 opponents Oregon and UCLA in crucial conference games, the Arizona Wildcats defeated Washington last night, 57-53, in head coach Sean Miller’s first victory against Washington in Seattle.
The Huskies are not as talented as the team that made it to the NIT Final Four last season, but they aren’t completely deprived of scorers, either. Heading into the game, C.J. Wilcox was second in the conference with 19 points per game, but Arizona held him to 11 points, partly because of four fouls.
Despite that, both teams struggled to score for most of the night, as proven by a 28-23 halftime score, before the Wildcats were able to pull away with 34 points in the second half.
Arizona (18-2, 6-2 Pac-12) started the game down 16-5 and had more turnovers than made shots in the first half, bringing back memories of the awful eggs the Wildcats laid against UCLA and Oregon; they started the games with sloppy play and were never able to recover.
Washington vs. Arizona has turned into a rivalry of sorts since Sean Miller arrived in Tucson, what with Derrick Williams’s block that won the first “whiteout” game, former UW point guard Isaiah Thomas’ game winning shot that sunk the Wildcats in the Pac-10 championship that same season, and Tony Wroten’s 17 points and block of former Wildcat Josiah Turner’s last-second layup last season.
The tide had to turn eventually, right?
Thursday night, the Wildcats were finally better than the Huskies, not because of their prolific 3-point shooting but because, this year, they had an answer for Washington’s Aziz N’Diaye. Last year, 6-foot-7 center Jesse Perry was left to deal with the 7-foot center, leading to all sorts of problems for the Wildcats.
Freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski fouled out late in the game but tied a career high with 10 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes of action. Tarczewski, who is usually a last resort offensively, responded aggressively despite guarding N’Diaye, who had 12 rebounds and four blocks against the Wildcats last year. Tarczeweski said earlier this week that he enjoyed playing against people of a similar size, as that was what he was used to.
He wasn’t lying.
Against ASU two weeks ago, Tarczewski was stuck with the challenge of defending 7-foot-2 junior center Jordan Bachynski, who leads the Pac-12 with 4.3 blocked shots per game; Tarczewski limited him to three points and six rebounds for the game.
Against N’Diaye on Thursday night, Tarczewski gave up 10 points and 11 rebounds, but because of Washington’s awful 3-point shooting, he didn’t hurt Arizona as much as he could have.
For the game, both teams shot a combined 4-of-30 from beyond the arc, but by the time the second half rolled around, the Wildcats were able to force the UW into poor offensive positions and seven turnovers, resulting in 11 points for Arizona.
As opposed to losses to Oregon and UCLA, the Wildcats never seemed to panic, despite the fact that the last time they won in Seattle was in 2006.
Unlike the nationally televised, overhyped games against the Bruins and Ducks, Arizona was able to get stops when it needed to and win despite not having the 3-point shot, which has been rare for the best 3-point shooting team in the conference, making 7.7 per game heading into last night.
Thursday night’s game against the Huskies was out of the ordinary. In fact, aside from the fact that Arizona had more turnovers than made shots in the first half, the Huskies actually shot a better percentage than the Wildcats — 37 to 35 percent — and Arizona only had nine bench points.
Arizona’s largest lead was five, so the “Cardiac ’Cats” nickname still applies to this year’s Wildcats, who, paired with Oregon’s loss Wednesday night, are now one game behind the Ducks for the conference lead.
Fortunately, if this season is any indication, down by one in the standings with 10 games left is right where the Wildcats want to be.