TUCSON, Ariz. – Earlier in the week, Arizona’s Solomon Hill said losing at McKale Center feels “weird,” so the last thing he wanted was to walk away with that feeling after one of the final home games of his career — especially after already having dealt with it twice this season, first against UCLA and then against California.
On Wednesday night, when he left McKale Center deep into the night after a 9 p.m. start, he didn’t have to worry about that.
Arizona “brought it” — in Hill’s words — against Washington, making easy work of the visiting Huskies in a 70-52 win. The Wildcats, ranked No. 12, are now 22-4 and 10-4 in the Pac-12.
“It was a fun game,” said Hill, who finished with a game-high 19 points. “One thing we said before the game was, ‘Have fun.’ We had gotten away from that.”
Close games typically do that to you. Not since Arizona blew out USC 74-50 nearly a month ago had a win been so comfortable.
Coach Sean Miller said the Cats played probably the best 28-30 minutes they had all season long. And it was because of their defense, which ignited the offense in transition.
“Arizona is an explosive team,” Washington’s Abdul Gaddy said after his Huskies dropped to 14-13 overall and 6-8 in the Pac-12.
Arizona certainly was on Wednesday — and deep, too. Five UA players scored in double figures.
“We ended up scoring 70 points, shooting 47 percent from the field, 40 (percent) from 3 and only 12 turnovers,” Miller said. “From an offensive perspective, that’s pretty good.
“And our defensive numbers are even better.”
UA held Washington to 30.8 percent shooting from the floor and 9 percent shooting from 3-point range.
“I thought a lot of guys played hard,” Miller said.
One guy in particular – even though he fouled out – was Arizona senior Mark Lyons, who like Hill was arguably the best player on the court, according to Miller.
So, once again, it was Arizona’s senior dynamic duo coming to the rescue. Early on, it appeared that both teams were headed for the 50s in total points.
“Myself and Mark got it going,” Hill said. “We were aggressive, and that just leaks off to other guys.”
The win helps Arizona stay in step with Pac-12 leader Oregon (21-5, 10-3), which plays California on Thursday night.
“I think we are in a good place right now headed down the stretch,” Miller said.
Miller had to be especially pleased by some vital signs of life.
Sophomore Nick Johnson had 12 points, his most since scoring 15 against Washington three weeks ago. He began dealing with flu-like symptoms right after that game and hadn’t had a performance like it since. On Wednesday night, he had nine of Arizona’s first 16 points in the second half.
Johnson’s contribution was “very important,” Miller said, as he — along with the seniors — gives the Wildcats a 1-2-3 punch along with th
“When any one of those three aren’t double figure scorers, it puts pressure on us,” Miller said. “I thought Nick getting out in transition got his confidence going.”
At least it looked like it.
“I just let the game come to me,” Johnson said. “Mark got me a few easy layups and a dunk, and that got me going.”
Give Lyons another assist; he had three for the game. He went to Johnson at halftime and asked Johnson what he could do to help him get going.
Johnson’s response? “Let’s run.”
“He got out on the fast break and dished it to me and got us going,” Johnson said.
In fact, he got everybody going midway through the first half, when it looked like Arizona’s offense was in the deep freeze – much like the snow-capped Catalina Mountains nearby.
It was Lyons’ 10 points that helped the Wildcats go from being down 13-8 to leading 20-18. Hill also hit a shot during that stretch and later helped Arizona close out the half with eight of the team’s final 11 points.
Even more good news: Freshman guard Gabe York, who played eight minutes, got in relatively early and hit his one and only 3-pointer.
“We just need a guy to come in and be responsible to come in and hit a shot,” Miller said. “It’s a great feeling to see someone come off the bench and hit a shot and hit that 3-pointer. It’s something Gabe can give us. From this point on, you can count on him being a part of things. He’s another threat to make 3-pointers.”
But it was the seniors who did the heavy lifting once again; Wednesday night’s win marked the 20th time this season one or the other led the team in scoring.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott sat at center court with Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne, taking in his first game in McKale Center. It was also Scott’s first time watching the Cats in person.
“This has been on my Pac-12 commissioner’s bucket list,” Scott said with a smile. “The experience has not disappointed me. I’m thrilled with the atmosphere here. There’s so much energy, and (it) feels big time. I know Arizona basketball is big time.”