What if I told you that the Wildcats leading scorer heading into this game, Jemarl Baker Jr. went 1-14 from the field and 0-9 from behind the arc and Arizona was still able to come away with the victory? Well, that was the case Saturday night as the Wildcats pulled away late to hand Washington State its first loss of the season with an 86-82 win in double overtime.
The bench was the story of the night for Arizona as Bennedict Mathurin and Terrell Brown Jr. combined for 39 points, including what ended up being the game-winning three by Brown off the glass from the top of the key. This was in a game where he was playing with a heavy heart after his grandfather passed away late Friday night in Seattle.
“What people don’t know is my grandfather passed away back home in Seattle Friday night,” Brown said. “I guess you could say that was him guiding that basketball in.”
Brown is the godson of assistant coach Jason Terry, who had nothing but praise for the graduate student out of Seattle, Washington.
“I’ve been watching this kid since he was in junior high make and take big shots and make big plays,” Terry said. “[Brown] is just a winning basketball player."
We had seen flashes from Mathurin throughout the early part of the season, but he really put it all together in this game against a short-handed Cougars team, dropping 24 points off the bench on 8-12 from the field while also posting a double-double with 11 rebounds. His two free throws late in the second overtime iced the game for the Wildcats, a true theme of this back-and-forth contest as the Cougars shot just over 50% from the free-throw line as a team shooting 19-37 including 5-14 in the two overtimes.
“It was my first time playing the four (power forward) against bigger guys,” Mathurin said on the competition he had to go up against. “It was a challenge, but I went through it and did what I had to do.”
It was an off night for Baker as he hit just one field goal which was a layup on a fast break, but he was banged up and did not seem fully healthy for a good part of the game. This really goes to show you the true balance of this team in that if one player has an off night, the rest of the team can pick you up.
“Everybody on our team can score,” Brown said. “That is the beauty of our team. We’re 9-10 dudes deep. For example, people have their nights. It was back-and-forth, me, James [Akinjo], Jemarl [Baker], Azuolas [Tubelis], Dalen [Terry] and Christian [Koloko]. People don’t understand that. [Koloko] had a really big block on Isaac Bonton to the lane and that helped us out a lot too but I believe everybody can play higher.”
Terry saw the adversity that the Wildcats faced tonight from the sideline, and gave credit to coach Sean Miller for keeping the team in check.
“We were primed to be beat tonight,” Terry said. “We did not shoot the ball well, defensively we fouled a bit too much and I just thought our guys remained resilient. There were a couple of timeouts where there was some indecision creeping in but coach came in and showed you why he is one of the greatest coaches to ever step foot on the Arizona campus. It is because he calmed us down, and got us back out. We went out an executed on the offensive and defensive end, and we came away victorious tonight so just all-around resiliency from everyone involved.”
The first half saw a lot of talking and physical contact between both teams, primarily in the last minute of the first half which included a technical foul called on Washington State and a foul called on Mathurin as he was boxing out on an Akinjo free throw with two seconds left until halftime.
“I think the biggest thing was that they are a good team,” Brown said. “They were undefeated coming into this game and I just think the biggest thing was that we’re both competitors. I know Isaac Bonton and Noah Williams from Seattle, so you know you kind of have that, I guess you could say bragging edge, but it was just competitive. It was nothing too crazy. It was just competitive.
The Wildcats might be banned from any tournament play this season, but that doesn’t mean they won’t keep playing with a lot of motivation and determination. This win moves them to 9-1 on the season and 3-1 in conference play as they now head to home to play USC and UCLA on Jan. 7 and Jan. 9.
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