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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Wildcats struggle on L.A. high

Rebecca Noble
Arizona head coach Sean Miller hollers at his team during Arizona’s 79-62 win against Washington State in McKale Center on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017.

Every now and then, we all like to sit back and relish in our accomplishments after a hard-fought battle that resulted in a huge victory. Sometimes sipping on the self-flavored Kool-Aid can have a counter attack, eventually resulting in a devastating situation.

No. 7 Arizona came off the biggest Pac-12 Conference road trip the Wildcats could’ve asked for. Arizona started the road trip by knocking off an athletic USC squad and followed that up with a victory against a team who is considered to be the best offensive team in the country in UCLA. They even got sophomore guard Allonzo Trier back, who had been serving a suspension for a failed a performance-enhancing drug test in September.

“It was tough [sitting out],” Trier said. “I love the game of basketball, so I stayed around the game as much as I could. I was always in the gym. I was practicing with my teammate’s every day. I tried to make an impact in any way that I could.”

Trier dropped 12 points, and the freshmen trio of Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins combined for 48 points against the Bruins on Saturday. Everyone was talking about Arizona returning back to the spotlight as national contenders. Life was good as a Wildcat hoops fan.

Plus, four top-10 teams in college basketball lost during the week, so with Arizona facing the Washington schools, who have a combined conference record of 5-10, the Wildcats were licking their chops for an opportunity to get in the top-3 of the polls.

The Wildcats came into the matchup against Washington State Thursday as a 22-point favorite, and there was a vibe that no matter what happened, even if somehow Trier mistakenly took another PED test and Markkanen had the flu, Arizona wasn’t losing this game.

Washington State covered the spread because the Wildcats only won 79-62, and the game was closer than the experts predicted. Give credit to the Cougars, because at one point they tied the game up to start the second half and only trailed by five with just over seven minutes left in the game.

For a top-10 team and the hype around the Wildcats as a West Coast powerhouse, the Cougars shouldn’t have had a chance from the moment they walked off the bus.

“I’m proud of these guys for hanging in there, but again, we knew it was going to be a mentally and physically tough game,” WSU head coach Ernie Kent said. “The mental part got away from us in the last six minutes and the physical part, because we got fatigued and they took advantage of that.”

Kent and the Cougars weren’t pleased with the outcome but loved the competitiveness they brought to McKale Center. This is a problem.

WSU doesn’t have nearly the depth Arizona does and played only seven players, while the Wildcats had more talent to rotate in and out of the game. On top of that, the Cougars made less than half of the free throws Arizona did.

“Tonight was a hard-fought win, and I know the final score ended up being 17 in terms of our favor, but obviously it was a lot closer than that,” Miller said. “Guys were going in and out of the game a little bit more. We’re trying to develop a rotation and figure things out, and we’re just not there yet.”

Arizona won’t have to worry about Washington too much on Sunday. Markelle Fultz is a one-man scoring machine, and even if he wore his Kobe Bryant underwear and dropped 81 points on Sunday, the Wildcats would still win single-handedly.

Looking forward, especially against an Oregon Ducks team who is foaming at the mouth for Arizona’s trip to Eugene next weekend, the Wildcats can’t afford to let their ranking do the talking while the product on the court doesn’t back it up.

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter

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