Arizona smothers Washington State with ‘outstanding’ defense
TUCSON, Ariz. — One. It was the number of the night at McKale Center on Thursday.
No. 1 Arizona, en route to a 60-25 win over visiting Washington State, held the Cougars to one point for more than — wait for it; after all, the Cougars did — nine minutes in the lopsided win.
And, as UA freshman Aaron Gordon put it, this game was about concentrating on "one possession at a time" for the Wildcats.
What that did was make it a grueling slog for Washington State, a team that may turn out to be one of the worst the Pac-12 has had in some time.
It wasn’t pretty early, and didn’t get any prettier late for the Cougars (7-6). The Wildcats, meanwhile, improved to 14-0, equaling last season’s win streak to start the season.
"We wanted to start this Pac-12 season off right," said guard Nick Johnson. "We loved what we did in the nonconference, but we’re here to prove to people we are the No. 1 team. And we want to keep it that way."
They certainly did that. In fact, the scoreboard operator — who was probably excited to use the newly placed video boards — didn’t get a chance to use the Washington State side of the scoreboard much.
It wasn’t a case of how the Cougars scored but how they bored. Yawn.
Washington State’s scoring-play-by-play in the first half was as follows:
Made free throw at 17:02.
Made free throw at 8:55.
Made free throw at 7:17.
Royce Woolridge layup at 6:42.
At that point, Arizona led 21-5.
"One point I looked up and I saw they only had one point. ‘Hey, they just have one point and they haven’t scored a field goal yet,’" said Gordon, who had 10 rebounds and five points. "I think everyone noticed that. It’s just something you see but you don’t pay attention to. You just keep playing defense like you have been."
Heck, even UA’s 14,000-plus fans applauded Woolridge’s basket.
"Arizona jumped on us early and it never really ended," Washington State coach Ken Bone said. "We weren’t playing an up-tempo game, but a lot of that was due to Arizona’s defense. All the credit goes to Arizona and how solid they are in a different areas of defending on and off the ball."
Arizona held Washington State to a McKale Center-record seven points in the half. The Cougars finished with the worst offensive performance in a Pac-12 game since 2006 and the school’s lowest output since 1938, when they also scored 25.
All because of the first half, when Arizona held Washington State to 2 for 21 shooting while witnessing just under a handful of air balls.
By then, the game was all but over.
"It was different," said Johnson, who had eight points but was Arizona’s second highest scorer. "You don’t see too many games like this."
It was an unfair fight. Not that it would have likely mattered, but Washington State was without Dexter Kernich-Drew (concussion) and DaVonte Lacy (appendectomy). Wildcats coach Sean Miller said the Cougars were "in a very difficult situation," particularly because of the absence of Lacy, who is averaging 18.9 points a game.
"We didn’t get their best shot," Miller said.
Washington State had little to no shot — literally. The Cougars went 9 for 45 from the floor and 2 for 12 from beyond the arc. Miller called his team’s defensive effort "outstanding."
"We knew they were limited in scoring, so we tried to focus on possessions," Johnson said. "It was (about) staying disciplined and playing it out."
Arizona used its size around the basket with the return of 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski, who had missed the last two games with a sprained ankle. Tarczewski finished with a game-high 11 points.
"It was different when he wasn’t there," said point guard T.J. McConnell, referring to Tarczewski. "He makes a huge difference when he is in there because of how big he is. He’s our rim protector. He’s been doing that all year, and we’re happy he is back."
And just in time for what will likely be a tougher, faster-paced game against Washington this weekend. It’ll be a quick turnaround for both teams, with tip-off set for noon Saturday, about 38 hours after the teams’ games ended Thursday night.
Johnson said the key will be to "come ready."
Will that be tough given the quick turnaround? Nope.
"We’re basketball players … it’s what we do," Gordon said.