No. 18 Arizona pulls away late to beat UConn, awaits No. 3 ASU
TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona clung to a two-point lead with just over 6 minutes left, the type of situation the Wildcats could not seem to handle early in the season.
The Wildcats have grown since an 0-3 trip to the Bahamas and instead of finding a way to lose, they raced off to their seventh straight win.
Arizona turned a close game in a lopsided victory behind its defense and a rash of 3-pointers, riding a late 14-1 run to a 73-58 victory over UConn on Thursday night.
“Our defense seems to have turned a corner,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “Not just tonight, but the last few games.”
Arizona (10-3) traded ugly possessions with the Huskies in the first half before both teams found an offensive rhythm in the second. The Wildcats turned up the defensive pressure during its decisive run, with Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and Parker Jackson-Cartwright hitting long 3-pointers to stretch their lead to double digits.
Arizona made 14 of 23 shots in the second half and was 9 for 19 from the 3-point arc to win its 47th straight non-conference home game. The Wildcats beat UConn for the first time in six attempts all-time.
Alkins scored 20 points while providing the spark in the second half. Dusan Ristic gave the Huskies fits all night as they doubled Deandre Ayton, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Trier scored 15 points after leaving in the second half of Monday’s game against North Dakota State with a sprained left knee.
“We have a lot of guys on this roster who can shoot from anywhere on the floor, including our bigs,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “We have a lot of confidence guys from 3.”
UConn (7-4) started slow after an 11-day break for exams before coming alive in the second half behind the trio of Terry Larrier, Jalen Adams and Christian Vital.
The Huskies traded baskets with the Wildcats for most of the second half, but a scoreless drought of more than 3 minutes at the wrong time sent them to another loss against a power program.
Larrier finished with 18 points, Adams had 13 and Vital 11 for UConn, which had 18 turnovers and five assists.
“We showed a lot of fight and competed, but it’s not a 35-minute game. It’s a 40-minute game,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “That last 5 minutes, we stopped playing the way were playing, with poise and defense.”
The Huskies have been criticized for not always playing hard while winning the games they were supposed to and have mostly stumbled against how-we-measure-up opponents.
The Huskies faced a monumental task Thursday night, trying to earn a statement win at one of the most difficult road venues in college basketball.
They have been plagued by slow starts and did it again against Arizona, missing shots, losing the ball on self-caused turnovers and lots of fouling.
Good thing for UConn, the Wildcats were doing the same thing in an ugly first half that included nearly as many combined turnovers (19) and fouls (17) as made field goals (20).
Both teams weeded out most of the ugliness to start the second half. UConn scored the first seven points to tie it and the teams played with a fluidity that was missing in the first half.
Ristic kept getting the ball inside and scoring, while Alkins gave Arizona a lift, scoring eight quick points after a shoulder to the face sent him briefly to the bench.
Larrier, Adams and Vital kept the Huskies within reach, answering nearly every time Arizona tried to pull away.
Arizona made a late push and the Huskies had no answer, losing by 15 in a game that was still close with 6 minutes left.
“We kind of lost it in that 5-minute stand,” Ollie said. “The score’s not indicative of how we played and we’re going to focus on the positives.
The Huskies were determined to not let Ayton beat them in the post, double-teaming the talented freshman every time he touched the ball down low.
The ploy, along with Ayton’s foul trouble, mostly worked. Ayton finished with nine points and seven rebounds, but also had three assists.
“It’s difficult to trap him and I thought UConn did a good job, but his passing opened up the floodgates,” Miller said.
Arizona hosts rival No. 3 Arizona State on Dec. 30.
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