From the moment the official tossed the ball up for the opening tip, this game was played with non-stop energy by both teams on both ends of the court. Even Arizona head coach Sean Miller’s pristine white button-down was soon drowned with sweat, and analyst Bill Walton offered his absurd one-liners with extra glee.
Players were particularly crafty with their hands on defense, stripping the ball or forcing a turnover that translated into fast-break points. Ultimately, 9-8 Washington State’s inferior talent and inability to rebound made it easy for the 15-3 Arizona Wildcats to pull away. They led 46-31 at halftime, pounced early in the second half, and didn’t look back, winning 90-66 and thus extending the nation’s longest home winning streak to 49.
Three things we learned:
1. Arizona’s defense prevents the Cougars from "riding a comet to the promised land"
Leave it to the quirky and often times maddening Bill Walton to provide a college basketball broadcast with a flourish of just plain weird dramatics. In order for the Washington State Cougars to stun the Wildcats in McKale Center, Mr. Walton remarked that the Cougs needed to "ride a comet to the promised land". What this meant, apparently, was that they needed one of their players to score points with a fury, then rely on that player’s hot hand to take over the game.
The two most likely candidates to, uh, be this "comet," were leading scorer Josh Hawkinson, a junior forward averaging 17 points and over eleven rebounds, and Ike Iroegbu, a junior guard averaging over 14 points and four assists. Hawkinson, who may stand in the way of Ryan Anderson’s pursuit of the Pac-12 Player of the Year, failed to even notch a double-double. He finished with twelve points and eight rebounds, and basically seemed overmatched by Anderson (15 points, eight rebounds), along with fellow bigs Dusan Ristic (10 points) and Kaleb Tarczewski (ten points, eight rebounds). As for Iroegbu, he finished with 13 points, and only one assist. Despite Miller’s recent and very public criticism of his team’s defensive efforts, they certainly stepped up, limiting WSU to just 27.3% from deep. But let’s see Arizona play quality defense against quality competition first before we get too excited.
2. Arizona’s "tsunami of offensive efficiency overwhelms"
Besides how "good" Mr. Walton repeatedly said the Arizona players looked, namely their "physicality" and "symmetry", what also impressed him was Arizona’s "tsunami of offensive efficiency". Indeed, though, the Wildcats were in sync. They passed the ball well, and anticipated with great accuracy where their teammates would be at the most opportune time. Their three-point shooting has been a sore spot all season, yet they were 9-16 against the Cougars, good for a ridiculous 56.3%. They also shot 54.2% overall while handing out 18 assists, better than their 15 a game average.
In all, six players scored in double digits, but maybe Arizona’s most notable performance of the game was by sophomore guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright. He tallied 13 points and a game-high seven assists when he averages just 4.6 points a game. If Arizona keeps their excellent chemistry intact, and continue to shoot well, teams will have to find a way to, God help me, break up the "tsunami".
3. Tollefsen takes advantage of minutes
Replacing leading scorer Allonzo Trier in the starting line-up, 6’9" transfer forward Mark Tollefsen, in just the first half, scored ten points on 3-3 from inside the arc, 1-1 from behind it, and 1-1 from the line. He scored just one point in the second half, but he still made a significant impact on the complexion of the game. Mr. Walton called Tollefsen "a rising star", a surprisingly boring description, not to mention an ugly cliche. Perhaps all the "comet" and "tsunami" talk wore him out.
Regardless, Tollefsen shot exceptionally well, and also ran the floor. His lone blemish was a missed free throw. If he had been more aggressive in the second half, he could have put up career-highs, but his performance and Arizona’s overall team performance are proof that not all is lost as Trier remains out for another month with the broken hand.