SEATTLE (AP) — Nick Johnson got the credit for finding a way to score needed points in the closing minutes for Arizona.
Only after everyone got done raving about the defensive effort Johnson put forth against Washington’s C.J. Wilcox, the leading scoring in the Pac-12 in conference games.
“I was looking forward to it coming in,” Johnson said. “I feel like I played hard. I think I did a good job. He’s a great player. He can score with the best of them.”
Johnson had 15 points, five in the final 2 minutes, and No. 8 Arizona rallied from an early deficit for an ugly 57-53 victory over Washington on Thursday night, snapping a three-game losing streak to the Huskies.
Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill both added 10 points for the Wildcats, who won their second straight after losing at home to UCLA. It’s a victory that won’t be remembered for the quality of play, but a gritty effort from Sean Miller’s club that easily could have found itself in a major hole after a sloppy first half.
Instead, they will head to Washington State on Saturday just one game behind Oregon in the conference standings and having escaped Seattle with a win for the first time since 2007.
“To win on the road when you don’t play offense well or have a half like we did, I think is a telling sign that hopefully our future is filled with some good moments,” Miller said.
Arizona won despite committing 17 turnovers, shooting just 35 percent and making only three 3-pointers. But their defensive effort made the game just as ugly for the Huskies, who finished 1 of 12 on 3-pointers and committed 17 turnovers.
Arizona trailed 48-46 with 4:34 left after Wilcox hit Washington’s first 3-pointer of the game. The Wildcats (18-2, 6-2 Pac-12) then closed on an 11-5 run — that featured big shots from Johnson and Hill — and got plenty of help from the careless Huskies.
Wilcox and Scott Suggs both scored 11 points to lead Washington (12-9, 4-4), which has lost four straight for the first time since 2008. Wilcox sat for a large chunk of the second half after picking up his fourth foul, but was hounded all game by Johnson and finished nine points below his average in conference play.
“Right now, tonight, our guys are really down. Our guys know that we came out ready to play. When you come out and you realize you didn’t give it your all, that’s tough,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “But when you fight like we did tonight and you come up short, it takes more than a couple hours to get over that.
Wilcox re-entered the game with 7:23 left and Washington’s offense immediately improved. Suggs scored four straight points followed by a driving layup by Abdul Gaddy and finally the Huskies’ first 3-pointer after missing their first 10 attempts. Gaddy recovered his dribble in the lane and found Wilcox open in the corner for the 3 to put Washington up by two.
Lyons answered with a driving layup as the shot clock expired and Hill scored off a careless Washington turnover to put the Wildcats back ahead. Wilcox was fouled by Johnson shooting a 3-pointer and after a timeout, hit two of three to tie the game at 50-50 with 3:05 left.
Shawn Kemp Jr., split free throws before Johnson scored on a runner in the lane to put the Wildcats up 52-51 with 2 minutes left. Aziz N’Diaye was fouled, but the 46 percent free-throw shooter missed both and Hill knocked down a jumper, only to have Suggs quickly answer on a drive with 1:08 left.
Miller decided to regroup and called a timeout with 51 seconds left. Off the inbounds pass, Johnson quickly got into the lane and was fouled with 41 seconds left. His first free throw rattled in and out and he made the second to put Arizona up 55-53. Washington tried to run a backdoor lob for Wilcox but Gaddy’s pass was too high and the turnover forced Washington to foul with 26.8 seconds left. Johnson hit both this time and after N’Diaye missed a desperation 3, the Wildcats dribbled out the clock.
“We have to learn to trust each other,” Hill said. “It was a factor of wearing them down in the second half and playing together and that’s when we started getting easy ones and Nick made a bunch of defensive stops and we just stayed with them.”
Kaleb Tarczewski added 10 points for the Wildcats, all in the first half, while N’Diaye finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Huskies.
“For us to win it means a lot,” Miller said. “This is one of the hardest places we come to each season.”