The latest home tip time of the season and a student section that started Spring Break early made for a pretty subdued atmosphere at McKale Center on Thursday night. It didn’t help the Wildcats were playing one of the worst teams in the Pac-12 and found themselves down midway through the contest.
Nothing a 26-0 run can’t fix.
The win snaps a 3-game skid for Arizona (20-10, 10-7 Pac-12) and keeps it in the hunt for a first-round bye in next week’s conference tournament. The Wildcats can even grab the No. 3 seed, depending on what happens in Saturday’s final games, thanks to ASU’s home loss to last-place Washington earlier Thursday.
Nico Mannion scored 23 points, including 12 during the game-deciding run, and added seven assists to just one turnover while Zeke Nnaji had 21 and Josh Green added 12. The Wildcats scored 54 points in the second half, their most in any half in Pac-12 play this season.
Down 31-29 at the break, Arizona’s deficit quickly grew to six points as Wazzu (15-15, 6-11) scored on its first three possessions of the second half to go up 38-32 with 18:41 left.
The Cougars stayed on 38 for the next 7:36, during which Arizona scored 26 consecutive points in all manner of ways. The Wildcats scored on jumpers, drives, dunks, and-ones (on a Josh Green 3-pointer) and at the line during that run, with Mannion scoring or assisting on 16 of those points.
WSU missed eight shots and turned it over seven times during that span, finishing the game with 17 turnovers while shooting 32.1 percent.
Arizona shot 47.1 percent, 57.1 percent in the second half, making 6 of 8 3-pointers after halftime and going 9 of 18 overall from deep.
The Wildcats looked like they were going to run away from Wazzu early, scoring the game’s first nine points with a heavy dose of Nnaji, who had 14 points in the first 16:26. Then Arizona remembered that scoring isn’t its thing and went nearly five minutes without points, missing six shots and turning it over four times to let WSU climb back in it.
Another nearly 3-minute drought just before halftime allowed the Cougars to take the lead, scoring nine in a row to go up 31-27 with 1:34 left on Jervae Robinson’s steal—compliments of Nnaji mistakenly giving him the ball on a dribble handoff intended for Mannion—and layup.
The Wildcats turned it over eight times in the first half.
Arizona wraps up the regular season at home Saturday night against Washington. A victory there, plus the outcomes of three other games, will determine their tourney seed between third and sixth in Las Vegas.