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What we learned from Arizona’s win over Washington in the Pac-12 Tournament

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 11 Pac-12 Tournament - Washington v Arizona Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — The Arizona Wildcats advanced to the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday by beating the Washington Huskies 77-70 in T-Mobile Arena. The Wildcats will face the USC Trojans on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. PT with a trip to the semis on the line.

Our recap of Wednesday’s win can be found here, along with postgame comments from Sean Miller and the players.

Below are some additional takeaways.

Arizona managed to avoid a late-game meltdown

If you have followed this team all season, you know by now that it has trouble closing games. Except this time.

Arizona led by five at the half and never let the Huskies get closer than that. In fact, the Wildcats led by double figures from the 17:04 mark all the way till the 4:12 mark when Marcus Tsohonis drove for an and-one to make it a seven-point deficit.

At other points in the season, a play like that could have caused Arizona to collapse, but Josh Green was fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass and calmly sank both free throws to push the lead back to nine.

UW later made it a five-point game with a minute left, but Dylan Smith, then Nico Mannion, each buried a pair of free throws to again restore a nine-point lead.

The Huskies’ longest run in the second half was six unanswered points...which was matched by an 8-2 run by the Wildcats, who displayed a rare killer instinct, with the loss to Washington last Saturday seemingly being the motivating factor.

“We lost last week to Washington, so our biggest thing was coming back to practice, working on what we’ve got to work on, come to the tournament all guns going,” Green said. “I think our team did a great job. We really locked in last week at practice. And I think we’re going to keep it going.”

Green rose to the occasion

What was one of Miller’s keys to winning postseason games?

Oh, right: “Somebody that plays even better than he has all year long.”

Wednesday, that was Green, who had 19 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two steals, doing great work on both ends. It was his third-highest scoring total of the season and most since the Wooden Legacy back in late November.

A gifted driver, Green is such a dynamic player when his jumper is on, and he buried three corner 3s and multiple mid-range jumpers along the baseline, the kinds of shots that have to be converted against Washington’s 2-3 zone.

“This might have been his overall best game of his year today, and it’s great to see him play well in March, especially because we missed him when he didn’t go with us to LA,” Miller said. “You could see how much we missed him. So it’s great to have him back.”

Green’s 36 minutes were the most he has played since he suffered a back injury that caused him to miss games against USC and UCLA. He says he feels “a lot better” now.

“I think the biggest thing was coming into March and being confident and coming out with a win, just giving it your all,” he said.

Green’s impact will be something to watch for in Thursday’s rubber match vs. USC.

The offense moved the ball well against a zone

Arizona’s offense was anything but stagnant against UW’s zone. The Wildcats had 18 assists on 23 made field goals, generating lots of open looks.

Arizona was actually passing too much at times, a reason it had eight first-half turnovers and Miller had to tell Stone Gettings and Zeke Nnaji to put up a shot attempt when they caught the ball in the soft spots of the defense.

“I think the big thing for us was using ball fakes, whether you shoot it or not, but just trying to draw the defense out so we can hit the same passes, get it to the high post,” Mannion said. “We know they guard an area, not a man. So using our ball fakes to get them out of position and get the ball where we needed to get it.”

Of course, creating shots is just one part of the equation; making them is another. It’s yet another area Arizona has struggled this season, but not in this game.

Mid-range jumpers by Nnaji, Gettings and Smith accounted for Arizona’s first six points of the ballgame, followed by 3s from Mannion, Green and Jemarl Baker Jr., helping them jump out to a 15-9 lead.

Altogether, the Wildcats went 9 for 24 from behind the arc, one of their best 3-point shooting outings of the season. All nine makes came from guards, with Green, Mannion, Dylan Smith, and Baker draining at least two triples apiece.

Baker went 2 for 5, a good sign after he entered 3 for his last 21. Smith went 2 for 8, but made some of the biggest shots of the game, with both his 3s extending a nine-point lead into a 12-point lead.

It was a rare complete game

Miller has compared this team to a balance scale. When the offense has been good, the defense has been poor—or vice versa. This was one of those rare instances where Arizona was executing at both ends in the same game, as it held Washington to 40 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers.

UW freshman Isaiah Stewart is so good on the block that he covered up a lot of UW’s woes—he shot 9 for 11; the rest of the team went 14 for 47—but overall the Huskies had trouble creating good looks.

And when they did, they usually missed, going 3 for 23 from behind the arc. UW coach Mike Hopkins thought the ball was sticking too much, giving Arizona half the credit for that. The other half, he said, was self-inflicted.

“Honestly, we emphasized to push the ball and swing the ball more. I felt like it was kind of stagnant this game,” Tsohonis said. “We weren’t able to. They were playing aggressive defense this one. But their overall defense on both ends...they were everywhere. It was kind of hard. We didn’t get into our stuff, really.”

Arizona’s defense has been playing at an elite level down the stretch, now ranking 14th in the country, per KenPom. If you remember, it ranked 45th after it got eviscerated by Oregon State in Corvallis.

Arizona will no longer have a homecourt advantage

Arizona’s fan presence at T-Mobile Arena was smaller than usual, likely for several factors including a Wednesday afternoon tip-off time, a disappointing season, and the coronavirus discouraging travel.

But the crowd was still overwhelmingly pro-Arizona and provided an emotional boost at times when the Wildcats were either making a run or appeared on the verge of collapsing.

They won’t have that luxury the rest of the tournament, as the coronavirus caused the Pac-12 to close the rest of event to fans as part of the wide-sweeping cancelations across the sports world.

That could be a big deal Thursday against USC, which generally has one of the weaker fan presences in T-Mobile Arena. A neutral site will truly be neutral.

Max Hazzard is still out

As expected, Hazzard is not with the team in Las Vegas as he remains out for so-called “personal reasons.” It is unclear when, or if, he will return this season.

All of this could mean absolutely nothing

With the NBA suspending its season due to the coronavirus outbreak, it makes the possibility of the NCAA canceling March Madness even more real. In which case, this whole college basketball season would go for naught and you just wasted five minutes reading this story.