Brian J. Pedersen
Arizona is at its best when it is running up and down the court, using the athleticism of its dynamic freshmen to its advantage. But that isn’t always going to be there, and it has to find ways to score in transition. That’s where the Wildcats’ role players are coming into the mix, as we saw during the Washington sweep. Jemarl Baker Jr. and Stone Gettings had breakout performances in the Pacific Northwest, making it so one or more of the youngsters could be off and it wouldn’t matter.
It also doesn’t hurt to be fully invested on defense beyond just trying to force turnovers and get out on the break.
Arizona played two far from perfect games up in Washington. Besides outstanding performances from Stone Gettings and Jemarl Baker Jr., no one really stood out. Josh Green and Dylan Smith both struggled, the Wildcats were cold as ice from the three point line, and at times the game was simply ugly.
However, despite the flawed weekend, Arizona got two wins and the Pac-12’s first road sweep, and that’s worth celebration. I have written previously about this team searching for consistency. The Cats aren’t quite there yet, but a road sweep was just what the doctor ordered after a brutal let down against ASU.
Arizona has a great chance to continue building momentum against the LA schools at home, and if it wants a top 4 seed come March, a sweep is absolutely necessary.
It’s hard to be mad about sweeping a road trip especially seeing how Arizona hadn’t won a true road game yet. Although it wasn’t pretty, the Wildcats finally broke through and have won four of their last fives games.
I suppose my biggest takeaway was this team finally won another close game. Prior to last Thursday’s contest against the Huskies, Arizona had lost five straight games that were decided by five points or less. It’s likely been the product of a young team and I’m not suggesting this team has finally turned the corner but you have to feel good about the win against Washington.
The Washington State game feels satisfying in its own way. Stone Gettings had his best game at Arizona which seems like a fitting time as he is almost certainly a starter from here on out. Also, the defense had a strong outing when it was necessary due to a poor shooting performance.
I hate to look ahead but I’m going to do it. Arizona now finds themselves in a situation where they could be riding a seven-game winning streak when they face the best remaining opponent on their schedule on Saturday, February 22.
College basketball is all about catching your stride in February and carrying that over to March. I still can’t allow myself to buy into this team but the next three weeks would go a long way for boosting confidence.
More than anything else, Arizona’s sweep of the Washington school told me this:
That the Wildcats’ early season losses won’t necessarily matter — if the team continues to exhibit the growth that it did this weekend and ultimately peaks at the right time.
By beating the Huskies and the Cougars, the UA finally showed the ability to win on the road — a huge step forward for a squad that relies mostly on freshmen and transfers who are playing in their first year for the program — and if the Wildcats can build on the sweep going into the second half of conference play/heading into the Pac-12 Tournament, I genuinely think they can still live up to the hype they were generating in the preseason.
Early season losses and all.
How refreshing was it to see Arizona not only win on the road, but come out on top of a close game and then a blowout?
Perhaps Arizona’s struggles away from McKale were less of an issue than many of us believed, but even still the team at some point needed to find a way to win in a hostile environment. That they were able to do so without playing a great game either night is a positive, and the fact that they got big contributions from their role players cannot be undervalued.
However, it was Arizona’s defense — which has quietly been improving all season — that could end up being the biggest takeaway from the sweep. Because if Arizona has found its recipe for that end of the floor, then this team’s ceiling is even higher now and yet, very reachable.