Arizona can do no wrong in rout of Sun Devils
TUCSON, Ariz. — Call them the Dream Weavers.
Or, from the opponent’s perspective, Nightmare Makers. Whatever the point of view, the Arizona Wildcats are enjoying a record-setting season to this point that continued Thursday night with a 91-68 blowout of rival Arizona State at McKale Center.
Junior guard Nick Johnson said the Wildcats are "living our dreams right now being the No. 1 team in the country.
"We know we have a target on our back every single game, but we take that as a challenge. We just have to keep this thing going."
Each time they do, another record will be broken. Arizona extended its all-time best start to 18-0 and is now one shy of the program’s all-time best winning streak of 19, which was set in 1993 and matched in 1998.
Arizona faces Colorado in Tucson next week to try to tie the record.
But first the review how Arizona got to No. 18.
In short, Arizona was at its simple, unselfish best in manhandling the Sun Devils. Johnson led the way with 17 points, but seven players scored 10 or more for the first time in 10 years.
It was a quick and early kill.
Arizona jumped out to a 27-10 lead and didn’t allow the Sun Devils to get within single digits once in the game’s final 29 minutes.
After ballooning to a 21-point lead in the first half (38-17), ASU closed to within 14 at the half (42-28).
Arizona then started the second half with a 10-2 run, putting no doubt in the rout.
"We knew as a team that we had to come out strong," Johnson said. "In a rivalry game it doesn’t matter if the other team is ranked. It’s always going to be intense. We tried to start off the game well. People hit shots and we got stops. We didn’t want to give them false hope of trying to come back or anything."
After the two fast starts it all didn’t matter.
Arizona hadn’t looked this good at home all season — save for the free-throw shooting.
"We left points on the table," coach Sean Miller said after his team went 15 for 28 from the free throw line.
Even the No. 1 team in the country needs to work on something.
And yet, the Wildcats are getting better at perimeter shooting. On Thursday night, they hit 8 of 15 shots from beyond the arc.
"As long as we take good threes we’re going to make them," said Miller. "We have a number of guys who can shoot the ball. We have to utilize the physicality of our team throwing it against the zone, getting it to the middle and when the ball comes out, those are really good threes. Those are the ones we are taking right now. We just have to stay with that."
It was all about balance, as Gabe York’s third 3-pointer of the night with two minutes left to gave the Wildcats their seventh scorer in double figures.
"It’s hard to have seven guys in double figures," Miller said.
Drum roll, please.
Aaron Gordon had 16 points, Kaleb Tarczewski 12, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 11, and Brandon Ashley, T.J. McConnell and York 10 apiece.
"As we’ve said a ton, we’re unselfish," McConnell said. "It’s just not one guy. We can score at any position, (and) that’s what makes us so dangerous. When were unselfish like that, and getting it to the big guys, I think we’re pretty tough to stop."
ASU clearly couldn’t.
"There’s a reason Arizona is No. 1," said ASU center Jordan Bachynski, who went scoreless.
Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said Arizona’s talent "wasn’t a surprise, only a confirmation."
Arizona’s smothering defense made it difficult for the Sun Devils from the start. ASU made just 3 of its first 20 shots from the floor as the Wildcats settled this one early.
Along the way to his 17 points, Johnson became the 48th player in school history to top the 1,000-point mark for his career.
"It feels good to be part of that group," he said.
The only thing to really slow down Arizona was a shot from Johnson that got stuck in the rim in the second half. But for all the flashy play, the signature moment of the game might have come when McConnell dove to the court for a loose ball and, from a prone position, got the ball to Johnson halfway down the court for an easy score.
"That play is the epitome of his game," Miller said. "He has a knack for getting his hands on balls defensively and plays hard. You saw all those elements in one play. That’s as good a play as you can make in basketball."