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Horrible first half dooms Arizona in loss to Washington in regular season finale

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arizona-washington-basketball-final-score-recap-wildcats-huskies-highlights-reaction-takeaways-pac12 Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

Good thing the game didn’t really count.

The Arizona Wildcats entered their regular-season finale against the Washington Huskies knowing their seed (5th) and their opponent (Washington, again) in next week’s Pac-12 tournament, essentially turning Saturday’s game into a meaningless exercise.

And they treated it as such for much of the night.

Arizona put forth arguably its worst effort of the season in the first half, trailing by as many as 16, then made a game of it in the second half before ultimately falling 69-63 to Washington at McKale Center.

The loss dropped the Wildcats to 20-11 overall and 10-8 in Pac-12 play, tying them for fifth with Colorado but winning the tiebreaker via a head-to-head win. By earning the No. 5 seed the Wildcats must play in Wednesday’s first round at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, facing No. 12 Washington (15-16, 5-13) at 2:30 p.m. MT.

But while Washington—which, due to its campus being shut down for the remainder of March because of a coronavirus outbreak in Seattle, went straight to Vegas after the game—enters the Pac-12 tourney with a ton of momentum, by virtue of its road sweep of the Arizona schools, the Wildcats head to Sin City in yet another state of disarray.

Arizona shot 35.1 percent, including a dismal 5 of 25 in the first half, turned it over a season-high tying 18 times and missed seven free throws. The Wildcats were an abysmal 12 of 36 on 2-pointers while Washington dominated inside with a 32-16 edge in points in the paint while scoring 23 points off Arizona’s turnovers.

Dylan Smith led Arizona with 19 points, hitting six 3-pointers in the second half despite cotton shoved up a broken nose suffered in the first half, while Zeke Nnaji had 12 points and 11 rebounds, Nico Mannion had 11 points and five assists and Josh Green had eight points and five boards in what will most likely be their final games at McKale.

Down 38-23 at halftime, Arizona tried to get back into it via the longball. Or, rather, Smith did. The senior, who spent time in the locker room in the first half after getting bloodied by a downward elbow from Washington’s Isaiah Stewart, drained three 3-pointers in the first 1:57 of the second half and made his first four shots from outside.

A 3-pointer by Mannion cut the deficit to 48-40 with 13:11 left. Arizona got stops on the other end on Washington’s next two possessions but turned it over on their end each time, continuing a trend from the first half when they had 10 giveaways.

Jamal Bey’s 3-point play with 11:35 left gave the Huskies a double-digit lead again and it remained there until Arizona went on a 6-0 run to get within 53-48 with 9:16 left. Smith’s fifth 3 cut it to 55-51 with 7:19 to go, but then the Wildcats put forth four straight empty offensive possessions, the last of which saw Christian Koloko called for an over-the-back and then a technical for arguing about the call, fouling him out of the game.

Washington made all four three throws resulting from that play to make it 59-51 with 4:27 left.

The Wildcats got it back to a 4-point game with 3:55 to go only to see the Huskies drain 3-pointers on their next two trips down the court to ice it. Arizona helped the cause by

Arizona trailed by as many as 16 during a first half in which it made only five field goals, just one coming in the final 12:25, while turning it over 10 times. Washington converted those miscues into 16 points and also dominated in the paint to the tune of a 22-4 edge in the opening 20 minutes.