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Arizona winning the ‘10th war’ during recent surge

The Wildcats have been clutch in late-game situations lately

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

College basketball games officially consist of two 20-minute halves, but the Arizona Wildcats think of them as 10 four-minute “wars” instead.

And the most important war to win, they say? The last one, of course.

“That’s what we base our program off of,” said UA guard Dylan Smith. “Finishing the 10th war.”

The Wildcats, 17-4 and 7-1 in the Pac-12, have won five games in a row, and four of those victories were by nine points or fewer.

Close calls, but Arizona did just enough in the 10th war to escape with a victory.

The evidence:

  • vs. Oregon State — Arizona led 54-42 at the four-minute mark, but was outscored 11-8 in the final moments to come away with a 62-53 victory.
  • vs. Oregon — Arizona trailed 77-76 at the four-minute mark, but finished the game on a 14-6 run to win 90-83.
  • at Stanford — Arizona trailed 64-61 at the four-minute mark, but outscored Stanford 12-7 to win 73-71.
  • vs. Colorado — Arizona led 69-66 at the four-minute mark, and outscored Colorado 11-5 to seal the game.

The bad news here is these games were probably closer than they should have been. Arizona had a double-digit lead in all four at one point, only to squander it away.

The good news is the Wildcats played well enough down the final stretch to make that moot.

They made key plays — like Allonzo Trier‘s late scoring outburst vs. Oregon or Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s opportunistic defense at Stanford — and made their free throws.

Arizona was 12-16 from the line against Oregon State, 34-37 against Oregon, 11-13 against Stanford, and then a ridiculous 22-23 against Colorado.

The Wildcats are an excellent free throw shooting team in general, shooting 79 percent from the charity stripe, the ninth-best mark in the country.

Not leaving points at the stripe only increases their margin of error in those late-game situations.

Head coach Sean Miller summed it up best: “We are not that much better than a lot of the teams in our conference, but we have been able to make some timely plays and finish games.”

Quite a change from the beginning of the season.

Of the three losses Arizona tallied in the Bahamas, two were winnable games. (the Purdue game was not.)

But the Wildcats were outscored 12-9 in the final war in a 90-84 loss to N.C. State, then outscored 7-5 in the final war in a 66-60 loss against SMU.

Arizona uncharacteristically shot below 70 percent from the line in both games.

“In the Bahamas,” Smith said, “we didn’t win the 10th war.”

The first nine wars are still a mixed bag for the Wildcats — they can take a 10-point lead just as easily as they can lose one, it seems — but when those last four minutes roll around, they find a way to lock in.

That serves Arizona well moving forward considering last season stunningly came to an end in the Sweet 16 because the Wildcats lost the 10th war.

Xavier outscored Arizona 12-4 in the last four minutes to win by two.

“That’s the main focus now,” Smith said. “Punching out games, punching out practices, workouts. Just finishing everything we do.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire