None of the Arizona Wildcats' 14 previous game saw a prolonged stretch where everything went wrong. Even in the first half against Drexel, there was a feeling like the Dragons just couldn't keep hitting. A 71-62 win against the Washington Huskies on Saturday felt different.
Washington gameplanned as good as a formula as any in order to have a chance, but in the end didn't have enough late in McKale Center.
Nick Johnson led the Wildcats with 24 points to keep the UW guards working on the defensive end. The bigs struggled but did their work to get the Huskies in foul trouble, and Aaron Gordon added 18 points and 11 rebounds to give Arizona second-half boost that stacked on top of Johnson's big day was enough to remain perfect at 15-0.
Washington's chances looked good from the beginning.
The Wildcat big men missed bunny layups, with Kaleb Tarczewski starting 1-for-7. Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell was getting posted by freshman Nigel Williams-Goss while Washington hit contested shots. The Huskies didn't need C.J. Wilcox to force it and didn't need the three-point shot -- which they haven't been keen on shooting this year -- to make it a game.
Wilcox still finished with 20 points.
The Huskies played to stop the Wildcats' strengths, and even gave up a few of their own to stick to the gameplan. They more than held their own on the glass despite starting with four guards, and they routinely looked to the paint. Starting big Perris Blackwell added 12 points and 12 rebounds, using his bulk to bump off Tarczewski from blocking his shot and rebounding over him in the paint.
It helped that they were taking what Arizona was giving them -- what UA likes to give to most opponents. UW shot a lot of long two-pointers, and when they weren't hitting them, they were getting offensive rebounds. On the other side of the ball, Washington allowed just one shot a possession for Arizona, which grabbed 10 of its 14 offensive boards in the second half.
Eight of the 11 field goals made by Sean Miller's crew in the first half were dunks or layups, but UA shot just 39.3 percent from the field. Meanwhile, the Huskies hit 55.6 percent and led 35-33 at the break. A five-rebound advantage for UW was reflective of, simply, the shooting numbers. It wasn't much to do with Arizona not rebounding.
Finally, the Wildcats' size wore on the Huskies -- even if it hadn't been apparent in most aspects of the game. Washington's short frontline that was short on depth eventually folded. Shawn Kemp Jr. fouled out with 10 minutes left in the second half, but he'd already scored nine. The Wildcats trailed 42-36 early in the second half, but soon they went on a run. The defense ramped up and Gordon finished on a putback dunk on a Tarczewski miss before Johnson dunked on a fastbreak attempt after a defensive stop.
From that point on, you felt Arizona would begin to pull away. The teams ended up shooting just over 42 percent each, but the Wildcats brought a 55.6 percent shooting first half down by holding UW to 30 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes. The 17-12 rebounding advantage for the Huskies became a 26-17 deficit in the second.
The tempo sped up, something Lorenzo Romar's team surprisingly and smartly avoided until the final 10 minutes. McConnell began ripping the Huskies, and Gordon came up with big rebounds on both ends and hit some big shots following a six-point first half.
Don't be fooled, Arizona didn't play its best game. But the Pac-12 schedule will include some more games like this.
Washington supplied the winning formula. Now it'll be up to the other teams to execute it while awaiting another iffy performance from the Wildcats.