No. 5 Arizona, whose offense has been at or near the top of the national rankings all season, has been finding other ways to win in Pac-12 play.
The Wildcats (14-1, 3-1 Pac-12) have turned up the defensive intensity when needed in each of the past two games, and will try to do so again when they host Washington State (6-10, 1-4) on Saturday in Tucson, Ariz.
Arizona was pushed to the final seconds Thursday night before securing a 70-67 home victory over Washington, a game that followed a 69-60 win at Arizona State on Dec. 31. Those are two of the three-lowest scoring games of the season for coach Tommy Lloyd’s fast-paced attack, which racked up three 100-point games in November and posted more than 90 in three other nonconference games.
But the past two games, coupled with a conference-opening 81-66 loss at Utah, show that Arizona is going to have to be a well-rounded team to survive when the competition is consistently better, the pace of the game slows down and scoring isn’t so easy.
“Great effort by our guys,” Lloyd said after the Washington game, in which the Wildcats trailed by 14 in the first half and seven in the second half.
“I was really proud of our guys for having hung with it. I knew all along this team has some grit, and we’re going to get tested. … I think our defense is good. We’re winning games playing defense, and that’s what you have to do. We’ve got a great defensive makeup that’s going to continue to get better and better and better over the course of this season.”
The Wildcats held Washington to 34.5 percent shooting in the second half. One outing earlier, they limited Arizona State to 36.2 percent shooting for the game.
Washington State, which is coming off a 77-71 loss to the Sun Devils in Tempe on Thursday night, figures to be a challenge due to its strong defense and slow tempo. The Cougars’ record doesn’t necessarily reflect their competitiveness. They took Utah to overtime in a 67-65 home loss, lost to Baylor by six points in Dallas, fell to UCLA by a point and beat Southern California 81-71 on Jan. 1.
“I didn’t feel we played as hard as we can and we’ll get better there,” Washington State coach Kyle Smith said after the loss to Arizona State. “We had great opportunities. … We made some plays to get some good looks at 3.”
Three-point shooting factors heavily into the Cougars’ game plan. They attempt more shots behind the arc than any other Pac-12 team, hitting at 36.2 percent, second-best in the league. TJ Bamba leads four players in double-figure scoring at 15.4 points per game. Jabe Mullins (12.3 points) has made half of his 70 3-point attempts.
Arizona continues to be led by the post duo of Azuolas Tubelis (20.0 points, 8.8 rebounds per game) and Oumar Ballo (17.2, 9.1). The Wildcats ranked third nationally in scoring (87.5) and field goal percentage (51.1) after Thursday’s games.
The Wildcats, who will be seeking their 29th consecutive victory at McKale Center, have won five in a row in the series and 16 of the past 17 meetings with Washington State.
–Field Level Media