Michigan no match for clicking Arizona
TUCSON, Ariz. -- So this is what third-ranked Arizona looks like when all things are clicking.
One. Tough. Team.
Descriptions like "super focused," "locked in" and "next step" were used from Arizona's players and coach after the Wildcats' 80-53 shellacking of Michigan. Wolverines coach John Beilein went one step further and called the Wildcats a "premier" team.
"Over the years, we have been able to see some great teams," Beilein said. "They've come to the Chrysler Center, we've played them in the NCAA Tournament and we've played them on the road."
Saturday was a road of woes for Michigan as Arizona won its 29th consecutive home game and 37th consecutive non-conference game. Michigan lost its third straight for the first time since 2011.
So just a week after nearly losing to then-No. 9 Gonzaga, the Wildcats used their next marquee game as a stage to show what it can do when everything works.
Beilein was so impressed with Arizona's performance that he told Wildcats coach Sean Miller he hoped Arizona (10-0) can stay healthy because "they have a chance to be as good as anybody this year. Today, Arizona showed they really have it all."
Freshman Stanley Johnson led five Arizona players in double figures with 17 points. He also had seven rebounds, as did Kaleb Tarczewski, who added 15 points.
It was an afternoon at McKale Center where everything meshed and mixed like a team playing in late February and March. Arizona's offense had a flow it had shown only in glimpses this season. Miller called the game "our best performance of our season."
Defense? Check. Michigan was held to 35 percent from the field (27 percent from the 3-point line).
Offense? Check. Arizona sank 58 percent of its shots.
Rebounds? Double check. Arizona allowed just six offensive rebounds and outrebounding Michigan 40-26.
"We showed better offense, improved offense," Miller said. "We love to use our defense to create transition opportunities. We're getting a little more efficient."
It helps when Tarczewski gets more touches and finishes near the basket to the point everything felt like a layup; when Brandon Ashley is tough to stop because of his versatility; when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson does what he does (everything); and, um, when Johnson plays like the man-child everyone expects him to be.
"I hope one day Stanley will look back on this experience at Arizona and really, really appreciate everything that has happened from August all the way through," Miller said. "He has improved on and off the court every four to six weeks.
"He respects practice, he respects games and he respects the University of Arizona more now than he ever has. He's learning to play at the college level and to his credit he's worked better and practiced better than he ever has over the last month. You're starting to see that."
Not surprisingly Miller called it Johnson's best performance to date. When Johnson completed the dunk-of-the-season on Gabe York's alley-oop pass to make it 33-17, the rout was on.
"A great pass and I just dunked it," Johnson said in an everyday easy tone. "Rondae makes them all the time. Anytime you get stuff like that you have things go your way (and) the team starts coming along."
And everything, well, falls into place. It all started with a nice, comfortable pace Arizona set for itself with the start at 20-9, the Johnson dunk and a second half start that eventually buried the Wolverines. Arizona started the second half with a 17-3 run, keeping Michigan scoreless for the first five minutes.
"Arizona is so good in transition because they have so many guys who can run and so many guys who can pass," Beilein said.
Miller said he challenges his starters consistently to get going from the opening tip. They accomplish it very rarely. Then came Saturday when they took good shots -- and they fell. Then Michigan slowly fell apart.
"When you're a very good defensive team you can really control the pace because you are always pushing it up the floor," Miller said. "We're better when the tempo is up rather than when it's screeching to a halt."
Will it continue in as much Arizona looks more aesthetically pleasing?
"I hope so," Miller said. "That's what we're trying to do. Michigan missed some shots which led us to moving the ball. We have a number of players who can thrive in transition. The faster the game is, to me, that brings out the best in them."
Saturday happened to be that day.