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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona’s win over WSU is a sign of growth

On paper, a four-point road win against a mediocre Washington State team doesn’t carry much weight.

Sneaking past the Cougars won’t be the difference between Arizona squeezing into the field of 68 and the Wildcats missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.

Defeating Wazzu was only the first step in completing a two-game road sweep that could solidify the Wildcats’ tournament appearance. Arizona still needs to knock off Washington in front of a hostile crowd on Saturday.

But while Arizona’s fifth straight win against a Faisal Aden-less Cougars squad won’t woo the selection committee, it proved exactly how far the Wildcats have come in month of February.

This is a game Arizona most certainly would have lost earlier this season. Remember when the Wildcats couldn’t win a close game to save their lives? Remember when Arizona missed free throw after free throw in crunch time? Doesn’t it seem like yesterday when Arizona’s lack of a go-to scorer continued to rear its ugly head late in games?

Arizona turned the chapter from those late-game woes on Thursday night in the Wallis Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum.

The days when Arizona went 0-4 in games decided by four points or fewer seemed like a distant memory. Josiah Turner didn’t commit a blocking foul with five seconds left or have his shot blocked at the buzzer like he did against Washington.

Instead, the freshman point guard found Jesse Perry with a left-handed bullet for the go-ahead layup with 38 seconds remaining.
Arizona didn’t clank big-time free throws down the stretch as the Wildcats made all five of their free throws in the final 38 seconds.

It was the Cougars who faltered at the line in crunch time with Brock Motum missing six of his final seven free throws and the conference’s second-best free throw shooting team connecting on only 15-of-21 attempts at the line.

The Wildcats rid themselves of the late-game demons that placed them on the NCAA Tournament bubble in the first place while overcoming a handful of obstacles.

Motum was an absolute monster, going for 28 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Despite shooting 10-for-18 from the line, the Australian lefty had his way with Arizona’s bigs and seemed poised to put the Cougars on his back to a win.

WSU guard Reggie Moore went into beast mode as well, scoring a season-high 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting.

While Moore tortured Arizona’s perimeter defense, Motum forced Perry — 14 points in 21 minutes — to pick up his fourth foul only 36 seconds into the second half.

Motum also sent Angelo Chol to the bench with his fourth foul with 11:19 remaining in the game and head coach Sean Miller was forced to turn to Kyryl Natyazhko, who had played three minutes in Arizona’s previous six games.

But despite monster nights from Motum and Moore, Arizona weathered the storm. Brendon Lavender continued his shooting rampage with 17 points on 5-for-8 shooting and 5-for-7 from three in 25 minutes. The senior is now 9-for-12 from distance in his last two games, and Arizona’s torched two zone defenses because of it.

Kyle Fogg registered his first career double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds as he continues to play at an All-Conference level during UA’s win streak.

Solomon Hill went for 11-5-5 in 39 minutes and came up with big plays down the stretch including a big-time assist to Perry for a layup to give UA a 69-67 lead with 1:21 remaining.

For seemingly the first time all season, the UA executed down the stretch. The Wildcats moved to 2-4 in games decided by four points or less and showed a grit and toughness necessary to beat Washington on the road and get in the big dance.

For Arizona, this win was nothing more than taking care of a team it should beat in a must-win game. But despite the lack of intrigue surrounding the victory, UA rid itself of the late-game woes and laid the blueprint for how to persevere toward big wins in crunch time.

— Mike Schmitz is a marketing senior. He can be reached at
sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatHoops.

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