The Arizona men’s basketball team was victorious over Washington 75-74 in McKale Center for senior day on Friday, Feb. 27.
Arizona also honored fellow basketball legends in Ernie McCray and Al Fleming Jr. during a special tribute of its former players at halftime. The jumbotron in McKale Center showed highlights of both players during their glory days with the Wildcats and in the NBA.
Arizona forward Azuolas Tubelis delivered an emphatic game-winner with 5.5 seconds left in the game to propel the Wildcats to victory. James Akinjo found Tubelis for a wide-open jumper that would seal Washington’s fate.
A huge win for Arizona as they ended senior night on a high note. All thanks in large part to the outstanding play of Tubelis and Akinjo.
Tubelis would collect a double-double for the game in which he posted 16 points and 15 rebounds. Akinjo would do his part as well as he finished with a career-high 26 points, 5-8 from the three-point line and collected a game-high 7 assists.
Head coach Sean Miller was proud of Akinjo’s performance and offered a lot of praise for his star guard.
“He is definitely an all-conference player,” Miller said. “I don’t think I even have to campaign for him because when the coaches in this league start with Arizona, they start with him. He’s our heart and soul and he’s had a fantastic season.”
The first period started sloppy for both teams as the theme became turnover by committee. Arizona and Washington made silly turnovers early on as both teams came out of the tunnel a little flat and struggled to find any fluidity and tempo offensively. Arizona went cold from the field shooting only 2-10 to start the game while Washington only shot 3-8.
The Wildcats struggled on defense for the entire period as they gave up a lot of wide-open looks from three-point range. They had trouble getting back on transition as well that saw them give up several easy layups. Arizona could never really go on a scoring run as they shot under 30 percent from the field for the entire first period. Despite their early struggles, the Wildcats somehow found themselves leading 33-29 at the half.
This game was a tale of two halves as the second period saw both teams pick up their energy and find the net more consistently. The Huskies stormed out of the tunnel by going on an 8-2 run that saw them take the lead 38-37, only two minutes into the second period. Out of the timeout, forward Christian Koloko would quickly regain the lead for Arizona as he would score five straight points in less than a minute.
Arizona made their mark on the boards as they outrebounded Washington 41-29 which included 13 offensive boards to the Huskies three. These offensive rebounds created a lot of second-chance scoring opportunities for the Wildcats and helped them snap out of their shooting slump. However, Arizona struggled from downtown as they only shot 29 percent on 8-28 shooting. The Wildcats were going to have to rely on their close-range shooting if they were going to come out on top.
Despite struggling from three, Arizona shot a respectable 21-24 on 88 percent shooting from the free-throw line. They were led by Tubelis and Akinjo’s soft touch as they made a combined 13 shots from the stripe. The Wildcats' efficient free-throw shooting was a key ingredient to their success in this game.
Kerr Kriisa and Bennedict Mathurin were relatively quiet offensively in this game as they only combined for 13 points on 4-12 shooting from the field. Despite his ineffectiveness on offense, Mathurin contributed big on the boards as he finished as the second-leading rebounder for the game with 13. Krissa has had better days as he only finished with three points, one rebound and no assists for the game in 23 minutes played.
The Wildcats blew a nine-point lead midway through the second period that eventually saw them trailing the Huskies 72-70 with two minutes remaining in the game. A big contributor to their shrunken lead was due to going on a scoring drought that lasted four minutes late in the period. This game had a flair for the dramatics late in the game as Akinjo would come up clutch by sinking a three that put the Wildcats back up ahead 73-72 with 1:11 remaining.
Washington came into this game sporting a 5-19 record overall and not a lot to play for but pride. They were playing the role of spoiler on Arizona’s senior night and wanted to end the season on the right foot.
The Huskies had the Wildcats right where they wanted them when guard Quade Green made two clutch free throws to give Washington the slim 74-73 lead with 15 seconds remaining in the game. Arizona got the ball out of the timeout with a chance to avoid heartbreak.
Heartbreak diverted as Akinjo found Tubelis in the corner for a clutch jumper that would seal the 75-74 win over Washington. No better moment than for Tubelis’ biggest shot thus far as a Wildcat to come on senior night.
Arizona will play spoiler of their own as they look to carry over their momentum into their final game of the season on the road against heated rival Oregon on Monday, March 1.
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