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Coming Up Big: Arizona continues to grind out close wins

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Simon Asher | The Daily Wildcat Arizona's Deandre Ayton (13) jumps to slam the ball off an offensive rebound. Ayton had a double-double with 24 points and 14 rebounds.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Often times, one of the toughest things to do in college basketball is consistently find ways to come up clutch with the game on the line. For Arizona men’s basketball, it’s clear that they've been able to do that the last two months and tonight was no different. In other words, the Wildcats have that mamba mentality.  

With 3:45 remaining in the game, Utah forward David Collette hit two free throws to tie the game at 77-77. Previous to this, Utah had once trailed by double digits but came roaring back thanks to a can’t-miss feeling from beyond the arc, particularly from Sedrick Barefield who hit six of them.  

The Utes threw everything they had at the Wildcats in the second half. Nine 3-pointers, forced turnovers and even  “F-B-I” chants from the crowd. But Arizona threw a bigger punch. 

From the 3:45 mark on, UA outscored Utah 17-5 to come away with its' ninth straight victory and another closely contested match. This time it was the free throw shooting that allowed Arizona to pull away. The Wildcats hit 9-10 free throws to swing the game back in their favor 88-77 with 1:31 to play. The Utes couldn't storm back this time. Yet, it was just another night and status quo for Arizona. 

“You know, moments like this earlier in the non-conference,” senior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said. “We went to UNLV, similar situation. We were down, came back. New Mexico, we started off fast and kind of similar to tonight. We let up and they came back. So we were just poised in this situation and we got a tough win.”

It’s been a trend for the Wildcats that started after the Bahamas trip in 2017 and looks like it’s continuing into 2018. Jackson-Cartwright didn’t even mention a wins over No. 7 Texas A&M, in which he hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with less than two minutes remaining, and against No. 3 Arizona State. 

Of all the talent and star-power Arizona has, its ability to collectively come together at the end of games and finish off teams is perhaps its greatest asset. The Wildcats were vulnerable on their first Pac-12 road game but they flipped the switch at the right time.  

“I just think that’s how you win games on the road,” head coach Sean Miller said, praising his team’s grittiness. “You’re not just going to just steamroll another team, especially Utah… It’s gonna feel like you’re grinding it out but really what you’re doing is you’re playing against the crowd, you’re playing against the runs that their team makes.”

During that three day stretch in the Bahamas, that toughness and grind-it-out mentality was absent. UA lost second half leads to NC State and SMU in consecutive nights. But it’s more present than ever now. And Arizona has showcased it in a variety of ways. From clutch shots, to free throws to defensive stands, the Wildcats can buckle down in every phase. 

It’s what separates the big dogs from the little dogs. Just take Arizona State for example. As the Wildcats were holding off the Utes, the Sun Devils couldn’t hold on to a second half lead on the road at Colorado and lost in overtime. Two weeks ago, many thought ASU was the best team in the Pac-12, "heavy" favorite if you will.

With a 11-3 record and impressive wins to open up conference play, that honor belongs to Arizona now. And it’s been the late-game clutch factor that’s played a major role. 


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