It certainly wasn’t pretty, but they got the job done.
The Arizona Wildcats mucked it up with the Oregon State Beavers for roughly 32 minutes before finally pulling away in a 62-53 victory Thursday night in Tucson.
In a game chock full of missed shots and turnovers, Arizona trailed 39-38 with 7:59 left in regulation. But from there it strung together a 16-3 run to take a 12-point lead with 4:10 left, which proved to be an unconquerable margin for the Beavers.
The Wildcats improve to 13-4 overall and 3-1 in Pac-12 play. Arizona hosts the Oregon Ducks on Saturday at noon to complete the homestand.
The Beavers are known for their rugged, slow-paced style of basketball, and that is exactly what transpired until UA’s late run.
Arizona only shot 42 percent from the field, while Oregon State shot just 39 percent. The Beavers’ zone gave the Wildcats’ offense fits and forced them to settle for long jumpers which Arizona couldn’t make until late in the game.
The Wildcats were just 6-21 from 3 and committed 12 turnovers.
Allonzo Trier had a game-high 21 points, scoring 15 of them in the second half. The junior was 4-9 from 3, while the rest of the team was 2-12.
Deandre Ayton dealt with early foul trouble, but finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes for yet another double-double.
Arizona trailed 22-21 at halftime as both teams shot under 40 percent and combined for 16 turnovers in the period.
Arizona coach Sean Miller was critical of Arizona’s effort level after its loss at Colorado last weekend, and the Wildcats had similar woes in the first few minutes.
Oregon State took advantage, and after a missed dunk by Brandon Randolph, Tres Tinkle sank a wide-open 3 to give the Beavers an early 12-2 lead less than five minutes into the game.
Arizona slowly chipped away at the deficit and later Randolph found Ira Lee in transition for a thunderous slam (and a foul) to cut Oregon State’s lead to 22-18.
On Arizona’s next possession, Parker Jackson-Cartwright found Trier on the wing in transition where he would sink his second 3 of the half to make it 22-21 with 3:11 left.
Neither team would score again the period.
“Our defense kept us in the game,” said UA guard Rawle Alkins, who finished with 11 points.
Eleven of the Wildcats’ 24 first-half shots were from 3 and they only made two of them. Arizona only attempted one free throw in the period too, as it was unable to get anything going toward the basket against Oregon State’s zone.
Ayton picked up his second foul with 6:41 left in the first half and would sit for the rest of the period, only tallying four points and three rebounds.
Tinkle had 10 first-half points, and would finish with a team-high 18 on 7-15 shooting.
Arizona finally took its first lead with 17:11 remaining in the second half after Trier dunked on Ethan Thompson, then Alkins extended it to a 29-26 advantage when he immediately followed up Trier’s slam with this ridiculous reverse:
Rawle Alkins just did something that you usually only see in dunk contests pic.twitter.com/3zWAxbw75e— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) January 12, 2018
That got the McKale Center crowd off its feet and UA’s players in a frenzy, but the Beavers kept their composure and put together a 9-2 run to re-take a 35-31 lead after two free throws by Stephen Thompson Jr.
Trier scored in transition, Jackson-Cartwright sank a 3, and Ayton had a breakaway dunk to give Arizona a 38-35 lead, but that was short-lived as Thompson Jr., who finished with 12 points, scored back-to-back buckets to push the Beavers ahead 39-38.
Arizona would take control from there, and wound up outscoring Oregon State 41-31 in the second half.
“It was a tale of two halves for us in many ways, especially on offense,” Miller said. “In the second half, our defense sparked our offense. But we adjusted to their zone a little bit easier. You can practice, you can prepare, but until you get into the game, you don’t realize the size they have and how well they can communicate. They do a really good job.
“That’s why their numbers through the first three games have been so outstanding on defense. They are very committed to that matchup zone. They know what they’re doing and they do it well. In the first half, we were standing, we weren’t moving the ball as well. We certainly didn’t get it inside as well and that’s reflected in the fact we had 21 points.”
Despite the slow start, Miller was happy with Arizona’s defensive effort. The Wildcats forced 15 turnovers, which they turned into 20 points, and held the Beavers to 0.8 points per possession, one of UA’s best defensive performances all season — and undoubtedly an improvement from the loss in Boulder last Saturday.
“That’s as hard as we’ve played,” Miller said. “It’s not really my opinion. You look out there and you see things happen, and guys are really helping each other, pressuring the ball. Steals are happening. Some of their turnovers were because of us and it was good to see.
“We’re a team that’s really practicing hard. We’ve had four really hard practices coming off of the Colorado game and sometimes that’s what you need — an opportunity to learn. And there’s no better learning opportunity than when you fail. And we lost a game to a team that played very well on that particular day. We didn’t feel good about our effort. You try to correct it, it’s not going to from level three to level 10, and in my mind we took steps forward.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire