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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona basketball is flipping the script in tight games

Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat

Basketball, like any sport, is a game of inches. Through 22 games this season, no one knew that better than the Arizona men’s basketball team.

The Wildcats fell to 0-5 in games decided by six points or fewer after a two-point loss to Washington on Jan. 28 that also dropped the UA to 5-4 in Pac-12 Conference play. Those losses included a one-point defeat at Colorado that saw the UA shoot 3-of-20 from 3-point range and coming up two-points short against Oregon — a game in which Arizona stormed back to erase a 12-point halftime lead before Kyle Fogg’s potential game-tying jumper went in and out at the buzzer.

But the Wildcats have since won three straight games that have gone down to the wire — a streak that was jump-started by a four-point win at California on Feb. 2.

Arizona (21-9, 12-5 Pac-12) went on to sweep the Bay Area road trip, handing California its first home loss since a triple-overtime thriller against the Wildcats a season ago and giving Stanford its first home loss of the conference season.

“I know it would be very hard to look at us as we went to the Bay after we lost to Washington and say, ‘These guys really have their act together,’” head coach Sean Miller said. “Kevin (Parrom) got hurt, we lost a pivotal home game (to Washington), another close game, but it was at that moment that we found ourselves.”

The Wildcats used that sweep as a springboard to launch themselves back into the NCAA Tournament discussion, winning seven of their last eight games. But Arizona didn’t flip some magical switch that suddenly allowed it to win close games.

While the focus in those contests is usually given to a play late in the game — Fogg’s miss against the Ducks or Tony Wroten’s block of Josiah Turner to seal a Washington win — Miller said the Wildcats haven’t necessarily gotten better in clutch situations. Instead, he said, they’ve done a better job of taking care of business throughout the game’s entirety.

“We don’t have a different approach,” Miller said. “I just think we’re better across the board and … in those close losses, it wasn’t the last play of the game that hurt us. It was how we played earlier. We’re just better throughout the game and it puts us in a much better light to finish off these games.”

The Wildcats now sit at 3-5 in games decided by six points or fewer, which Miller could have predicted after the UA’s rocky start in close games. Arizona is just a few plays from having been 14-3 or 15-2 in conference play and running away with the Pac-12 regular-season title, but Miller said things have a way of working themselves out in the end.

“Part of it is when you lose a couple of close ones, there’s so much you can point blame to, that ‘These guys can’t win close games,’” Miller said. “Well, now when you judge us, we’ve been in a number of close games and it has a funny way of evening out. We’ve won a number of close games in February maybe that we didn’t in January.”

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