It wasn't pretty, often ugly, but it sure was passionate. Both sides wanted this one and someone was gonna be disappointed. There are some games where teams simply match up better than others and last night was evidence that Arizona may not have closed that gap as much as its fans would have liked. Regardless, scoreboard matters and in this case, it favored our Cats. I believe that Lorenzo Romar deserves some praise for recognizing what was going on to keep his team in the game. Each time that the Cats appeared to be poised to allow the crowd to take them another level, his players made a crucial stop or shot or both to keep tabs on the Cats. Also credit should go to Isiah Thomas who willed his team to stay close by his generalship on the floor and keeping the Dawgs focused.
One the good side of the ledger for the Cats, they got a team effort, everyone showed up to play. Perhaps the "A" game was missing from some players in regards to effort and focus but there should also be credit tossed to the Dawgs who preyed upon the youthful weakness or perhaps it was hubris exhibited by the Cats during some of their offensive sets. Perhaps Washington got into their heads a bit, lets face it, I'm not sure that you can find a more invasive set of hands than those of the Dawgs guards and forwards. Those Huskies can lull you into thinking that they are simply sitting back and waiting for the next ball screen and the next thing you see is a streaking Husky on his way to a lay up. All of the Arizona guards were burned by a certain sense of unwarranted complacency but sometimes, you need to have that lesson burned into your brain and I'm sure that Coach Miller will be treasuring this game tape in order to keep the Cats minds focused on the now and instead of worrying about being in the national spotlight.
At times Washington made our Cats look bad, sloppy and unfocused. They knew that to have any reasonable chance at the PAC 10 title, that the media had anointed them as the favorites for, then they had to have this game. Arizona knew that it could firmly grasp a PAC 10 title and give themselves a decent quality win by dispatching the Huskies. At first, it was evident that the Cats were riding high on the emotions of the crowd as the game began. They were confident and poised until the first TV time out, then reality set in as Washington began the slow arduous process of working their way back into the game. Miller could see the beginning of the trend of the Cats still believing that they had done enough in the first four minutes because he called a timeout while the second team was in and the Cats were up 10. He must have had a notion about what was coming as the Cats were never able to put the Huskies away in the first half. Multiple turnovers, quick shots, ill advised passes and defensive lapses muddled the remainder of the half as each team traded mini runs of five or six points but neither could establish much control over the game.
The second half showcased the mettle of both teams. Firstly, that of the Huskies in closing the gaps and establishing a four point lead. This was done by a combination of slashing Thomas drives and dishes, Bryan-Amaning clicking on his low post game and C. J. Wilcox establishing an outside threat. The Dawgs did the grunt work by digging out offensive boards and kept the defensive pressure on Arizona by denying MoMo from getting in the lane and running their offensive sets by tighter on ball defense. It wasn't completely successful, but slowly, the Dawgs made progress and once they had climbed that obstacle found that they had awakened a whole new can of determination from the Cats. While Sonny Dykes proclaimed that Isiah Thomas had a will that could not be broken, an on court rejoinder was offered by Derrick Williams in that he outworked everyone else on the boards and from the field, with 26 points and 11 rebounds. Ten of those points were during the last ten minutes of the game with key plays that took place to put the Cats back into the lead with under two minutes to play. Williams just refused to lose as he blocked Darnell Gant's 10 foot jumper with under two seconds remaining and tipped away the last gasp lob attempt to finish the game. Not noticed was his defense that cause Bryan-Amaning to travel with three seconds left on the clock.
It shouldn't be ignored that this was a team win, not just a Dwill win, Solomon Hill scored the final two points on an offensive put back, MoMo Jones kicked in a key 15 points and both Kevin Parrom and Jesse Perry had double digit points. The grit was evident on the faces of our young Cats as they chose not to be denied as evidenced by the last few minutes of the game. Once Washington had stretched to a four point lead (72-68) the Cats never rolled over as each of the teams traded body shots down the stretch. This was one game where the refs essentially stayed out of the way and let the players decide it on the court. To say that these teams were somewhat evenly matched at this time is quite credible as the Huskies do in fact have the best guard in the conference with Thomas (apologies to Klay Thompson but he can't do what Thomas does) and the Huskies had more assists, shot a higher percentage from the floor, forced more turnovers and blocked more shots. The Cats managed to control the boards, own the free throw stripe and beyond the arc.
Inside the Box Score
The Huskies also had four players in double digits, Matthew Bryan-Amaning had 24 to lead the teams with C. J. Willcox chipping in 19, Isiah Thomas had 12 (with 9 dimes) and Justin Hoillday contributed 11. The Huskies bench outscored the Cats 26-23.