This team is going to play hard and together despite the postseason ban
There were a lot of reasons Arizona could have mailed it in Saturday:
- They can’t play in the postseason
- It was their second game in three days
- They were on the road
- Traveling to Pullman is taxing
- Washington State was well-rested, having almost two weeks off due to other teams’ COVID issues
Instead, the Wildcats outlasted an unbeaten Cougars team on their home court in double overtime. Jordan Brown wasn’t kidding when he said Thursday that Arizona is still highly motivated.
“It says a lot. It shows a lot of grit,” Terrell Brown said of Saturday’s win. “We didn’t have the best game starting. It was back and forth battle between two good teams. They’re a really good team. They took us to double overtime and we want to win every game. That’s what we bring to the table every time. If we’re playing postseason or not, we really don’t care because it’s always next game. We still want to prove people wrong.”
And since this game was so intense, it showed that Arizona will stick together when the going gets tough.
“In blowout games you don’t get that same type of feeling, but in games like this, overtime basketball games on the road in the Pac-12, is where you build that bond,” Terry said. “I think our guys have done a great job all season long of supporting each other, bench included. And I think it showed up tonight. When we needed each other most, we were tied together.”
Mathurin keeps getting better and should be starting
Sean Miller always says that the best five players should start, so it’s time that Bennedict Mathurin gets moved into that first group.
The freshman posted his first career double double Saturday by posting career highs in points (24) and rebounds (11).
It was his second straight game leading Arizona in scoring, and he played a huge role in the frontcourt as Ira Lee, Jordan Brown, Azuolas Tubelis and Christian Koloko struggled with foul trouble.
“It was my first time actually playing against the four, playing against bigger guys,” Mathurin said. “And it was a challenge, but I went through it and do what I had to do.”
On a night when both teams struggled to hit shots, he was money from all three levels, shooting 8 for 12 from the field, 2 for 3 from the arc, and 6 of 7 from the free throw line.
Those weren’t empty stats, either. He made two key putbacks and several timely free throws that iced the game.
“He hit big shots and he’s playing efficiently,” Terry said.
For the season, Mathurin is Arizona’s third-leading scorer, fourth-best rebounder and second-best shooter, so it’s not as if Saturday’s game was a one-off. He is legit good, getting better, and needs more minutes.
But whose spot should he take in the starting five? Dalen Terry, who is shooting 33 percent and hardly played down the stretch of Saturday’s game after Arizona went -7 in the 16 minutes he played, the worst plus/minus on the team.
Whatever Miller said during this timeout worked
After a layup by Noah Williams put WSU up 41-37 with 13:22 left, Miller called a timeout and ripped into his team:
Sean Miller clearly not happy with the way Arizona is playing in the second half pic.twitter.com/ihguC2hZm0— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) January 3, 2021
He was not available to the media after the game, so we don’t know exactly what he told his players, but whatever it was, it worked. Arizona immediately broke off a 7-0 run.
You can see from Jemarl Baker’s determined expression that the players were dialed in.
“There was some indecision creeping in, but Coach (Miller) came in and showed you why he’s one of the greatest coaches to ever step foot on the Arizona campus, because he calmed us down,” Terry said. “He got us back out. We went out and executed on the offensive and defensive end, and we came away victorious tonight. So just all around resiliency from everyone involved.”
Jemarl Baker has short memory
Baker has been great this season, but Saturday was just not his night, no matter how times he tried to change that. He went 1 for 14 from the field and 0 for 9 from 3. He kept shooting and shooting and shooting, almost to the point that it cost Arizona the game.
A missed corner 3 led to a transition 3 for WSU that gave them a 66-64 lead with 2:30 left in regulation.
Arizona’s free throw shooting program paid off
Arizona’s free throw shooting has been hit or miss this season, but they were on the mark in Pullman, going 25 for 32 at the stripe. It helped them overcome an awful shooting night.
Meanwhile, the Cougars cost themselves the game by going 19 for 37 at the line. Maybe they should enroll in Arizona’s free throw program.
“A lot of schools, a lot of NBA teams have shooting programs, but here in Arizona we have a free throw program,” Terry explained. “We take pride in making free throws, because I go back to grade school, it’s layups and free throws. If you make a fair share of those, you’ll put yourself in a position to win games, especially games like tonight, where you don’t particularly shoot the ball well.”
Arizona’s late-game playcalling is still an issue
Arizona’s late-game playcalling was basically the same as it was against Stanford when the Wildcats lost on a charge: Give the ball to James Akinjo and let him create something.
It really didn’t work this time, either. Arizona had the ball with 23 seconds left in a tie game at the end of regulation and didn’t even get a shot off.
WSU’s zone thwarted a high pick-and-roll, forcing Akinjo to isolate and drive into the lane. By the time he rose for a shot, the game clock had already expired. That just can’t happen when you’re given that much time to find a shot:
Good example of how not to execute in the final seconds pic.twitter.com/U1CF6Gz99r— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) January 3, 2021
Even Terrell Brown’s game-winning 3-pointer was the result of an ugly play. The set didn’t work and Akinjo gave the ball up to Brown with five seconds left at the top of the arc.
Fortunately, his desperation 3 banked in for the win:
It’s awesome that Terrell Brown was the one to hit the game-winner
Brown informed us after the game that his grandfather passed away Friday, making the win and his game-sealing shot even more important to him.
“I guess you can say that was him guiding that basketball in,” Brown said.
You can read more about that here.
We didn’t learn why Jordan Brown didn’t play in overtime
Miller wasn’t available to explain why Brown was on the bench down the stretch even though Arizona’s bigs were in foul trouble.
My guess is that he just wasn’t playing that well and they really liked the small lineup with Mathurin at the 4 and Azuolas Tubelis at the 5.
Tubelis had 12 points and nine rebounds (five offensive) in 33 minutes.
Overtime wouldn’t have been necessary if Pac-12 refs didn’t miss a travel
Remember that botched final possession by Arizona in regulation? Well, that wouldn’t have needed to happen if the refs didn’t miss an obvious travel by Isaac Bonton on the previous possession.
The WSU guard got caught underneath the basket, switched his pivot foot and dished to Efe Abogidi for the game-tying layup with 24 seconds left: