After so many 7, 8 and 9 p.m. weeknight tip times, playing at 5:30 p.m. had to feel like 5:30 a.m. for the Arizona Wildcats. So forgive them if it took a while for the coffee to kick in.
After sleepwalking through most of the first half, third-ranked UA flipped the switch coming out of the locker room and cruised to an 83-69 win over Oregon State on Thursday night at McKale Center.
The Wildcats improved to 23-2 overall, tied for the best 25-game start in school history, and 13-1 in Pac-12 play. But they trailed the last-place Beavers (3-21, 1-13) on five occasions during the first 14 minutes of the game, allowing a season-high 42 points in the first half.
Conference Player of the Year co-frontunners Azuolas Tubelis and Bennedict Mathurin had 22 and 20 points, respectively, with Tubelis going 8 of 14 from the field and Mathurin 6 of 14 with a pair of 3-pointers. Christian Koloko added 16 points, 9 rebounds and his 75th block of the season, tying Anthony Cook for fifth-most in UA single-season history, while Kerr Kriisa (6) and Dalen Terry (5) combined for 11 of Arizona’s 26 assists.
The UA shot 52.5 percent, 53.3 percent in the second half, turned it over fewer than 10 times for the second consecutive game and held Oregon State to 39.1 percent shooting.
This is the fifth time Arizona has begun a season 23-2, also doing so in 2013-14, 2002-03, 1987-88 and 1949-50.
Arizona, which led 44-42 at the half, scored on its first seven possessions of the second half to go up 59-47 with 16:06 remaining. The lead got over 20 with 8:28 to go and got as high as 23 before the reserves kept Arizona from covering the 23.5-point spread.
All the drama, if you want to call it that, was in the first half.
Oregon State led 28-25 with 7:21 left in the first half after it broke Arizona’s full-court press and Maurice Calloo dunked over Koloko in transition. The Wildcats retook the lead on a Mathurin layup with 5:53 left, part of a 9-2 run capped by an Oumar Ballo 3-point play to make it 36-32 with 4:43 to go before halftime.
A nice 7-0 run that took just 69 seconds, capped by a Kriisa 3, put the Wildcats ahead 43-34 with 2:21, but they had one of their patented pre-halftime lulls as OSU finished on an 8-1 run with Warith Alatishe hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it a 2-point game.
The Beavers hit 6 3s in the first half, more than its per-game average of 5.4.
The UA is back at it Saturday night when it hosts Oregon with ESPN’s College GameDay in town. The Ducks have won the last seven meetings.