The Arizona Wildcats (19-5, 9-2) were a victim of a buzzer-beater on Saturday night, falling 78-75 to the Washington Huskies (17-6, 7-3).
It’s hard to put this game into words beyond this: Wow.
The first half was an absolute battle but the Huskies seemed one step ahead. They took a seven-point lead into halftime.
Washington extended their lead to kick off the second half. But just as things began to look dreary for the Wildcats and the Huskies’ sellout crowd was rocking, Arizona began to answer. The Wildcats mounted their comeback, turning a 14-point deficit into a one-point game in six minutes.
The final 12 minutes were a back-and-forth affair that saw the game tied at 75 with 21 seconds left. Deandre Ayton made a spectacular defensive play in the final seconds, swatting a Jaylen Nowell shot with such force, sending it behind the 3-point line where it found its way into the hands of Husky forward Dominic Green.
Green launched it with no hesitation and it went through the net as the buzzer sounded, handing the Wildcats their second Pac-12 loss of the season.
Arizona lost. Another win streak goes by the wayside. It wasn’t all bad though. Let’s take a look at three up and three down from the heartbreaking loss to UW.
To Arizona’s credit, they pounded the ball inside for the majority of the night against the Huskies.
Typically against zones, Arizona has forced bad 3-pointers and settled for ill-advised shots as the offense sputters. Saturday, against a defense that will give you a mid-range shot, Arizona forced their way into the paint. It was especially necessary on a night that the long ball wasn’t falling, making only 2-of-12 from deep.
Dusan Ristic came up huge for Arizona yet again. When the Wildcats were struggling to find their shot, they’re able to rely on feeding Ristic and his ability to use his touch around the rim and in the mid-range has been spectacular these last few weeks. He finished with a team-high 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting and 10 rebounds.
His frontcourt mate was no slouch though. Deandre Ayton pounded Washington for 19 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Allonzo Trier added 20 points of his own, plenty of those coming from inside the arc.
Despite the loss, Arizona’s decision to attack the basket was a really nice sign for the future, especially when they needed to get back into the game in the second half.
Never give up
This team has plenty of flaws but fighting to the finish isn’t one of them.
This feels like forever ago but Arizona’s loss to Purdue was terrifying for a couple of reasons. Beyond the obvious that it was the Wildcats’ third loss in as many days — Arizona flat out quit in their final game in the Bahamas. Sean Miller’s teams have never been known to quit but the Wildcats played with no heart and no fire that night.
Since then, Arizona has only lost twice and they’ve gone down swinging on both occasions, fighting back from big deficits to close the gap.
The Wildcats have fought back from double-digit deficits on the road three times over the past month. While only one of those turned into an Arizona victory, it says a lot about this team’s character.
Despite their obvious flaws in regards to offense, defense and depth — that will to survive could carry them in March.
While it’s difficult to compliment a crowd that doesn’t reside in Tucson at McKale Center, a lot of credit does need to be given to the Husky faithful that made Alaska Airlines Arena a madhouse on Saturday night.
This game felt big and that says a lot about what Washington has been able to do as a program this season. This had the feeling of one of those old battles from 2005 that pitted Salim Stoudamire and Channing Frye against Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy. Or those 2011 showdowns between Derrick Williams’ Wildcats and Isaiah Thomas’ Huskies.
Since then though, the Huskies have fallen off and especially after last season’s debacle, it was hard to imagine them being relevant this soon. With all due respect to Lorenzo Romar and the program he built over 15 seasons while at Washington, Mike Hopkins deserves a ton of respect for bringing Washington from the cellar of the Pac-12 back into the national spotlight in quick order.
Saturday night was a great game and particularly the final 12 minutes was high-level basketball from both sides. If these heart-stopping affairs between Arizona and Washington are here to stay, I’m all the way in.
Arizona was dismantled by an opposing big man on Saturday night. Shocking, right?
This has become a very common occurrence this season and considering we’re in February, it doesn’t appear to be going away.
Ayton and Ristic are excellent offensive players and it’s not like they’re pushovers on the defensive end. After all, they combined for four blocks against the Huskies. But there’s something about these guys that make opposing bigs’ eyes light up every time they see them.
Noah Dickerson was phenomenal on Saturday night, piling up 25 points on 10-of-16 from the field and snagging seven rebounds.
He simply had his way ub inside, much like many have before him. He used his frame to back defenders down and was able to rainbow hook shots over the top of Ayton and Ristic for the majority of his 33 minutes on the floor.
Wildcat fans can hope that this will somehow get better over the next two months. But the odds of that happening are slim.
While I praised this team’s fighting spirit to come back from 14-down and eventually take a lead late in the second half, that 14-point lead doesn’t happen without suspect effort from the Wildcats at multiple points in the game.
This Arizona team is about as streaky as a team can get and they found themselves in a funk at multiple points on Saturday night.
It was most obvious to start the second half though. In less than two and a half minutes, Washington kicked off the second half with an 11-4 run to double their halftime lead of seven.
Arizona was lethargic to open the second half and had moments of that early on as well. Slow on closeouts, lazy when “fighting” through screens, no movement on offense — it wasn’t an absolute mess but it certainly had its messy moments.
It’s not fair to say that the Wildcats dug a hole too deep. After all, they led 73-70 with 1:30 left in the game. It’s also not fair to blame the loss on the effort issues that existed as the loss was ultimately decided in a wild finish that featured a gargantuan block and the right Husky being in the right place at the right time.
But not being fully engaged put Arizona in a tough spot. They fought back and nearly grabbed a win but this can’t be a team that just knows when to turn it on. Because when it matters most, that switch-flipping stuff may not work.
Emmanuel Akot logged 14 minutes and chipped in a pair of rebounds and assists, and a floater. He’s clearly made his way into Sean Miller’s rotation of trusted guys with his intense defensive effort.
Keanu Pinder had a very nice block in the final minutes that, much like the game-winner, still ended up a Dominic Green 3-pointer.
But that’s the end of the good news for the bench.
Dylan Smith and Brandon Randolph combined for only 12 minutes of action, only two shot attempts and two total points. Ira Lee played only two minutes.
From Smith and Randolph particularly, the Wildcats need more production. The bench hasn’t been a strength all season but these two have been counted on to make shots throughout the year and most times, have come through.
In such a big game, seeing the rotation shortened isn’t a great sign for the bench as we enter the homestretch of the season.