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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Stanimal erupts in victory

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Tyler Baker
Tyler Baker / The Daily Wildcat

There was a portion of the first half on Thursday where it looked like the No. 10 Arizona men’s basketball team (15-2, 3-1 Pac-12 Conference) would be in for a second-straight Oregon State-esque performance. By that, I mean a halftime score somewhere in the mid-20s and more questions than answers on the offensive end. Alas, it was just a portion of the first half. 

The Wildcats kicked into high gear about midway through the first half en route to a 68-54 victory over the shorthanded Colorado Buffaloes (9-7, 2-2) in McKale Center on Thursday night in which, despite injuring his ankle late in the second half, Colorado guard Askia Booker went off for 30 points.

Leading the UA charge was standout freshman Stanley Johnson, who finished with a career-high 22 points on 7-15 shooting, eight total rebounds and three assists. His previous career-high was 18 points, a feat he accomplished three times this season. 

After the game, Arizona head coach Sean Miller said Johnson was a dominant offensive force throughout the action. 

“He makes it look easy sometimes,” Miller said about Johnson. 

Johnson added that he didn’t do anything different tonight, but rather he stayed out of foul trouble, something that wasn’t the case against Oregon State or really for the season as a whole. Thursday’s zero personal fouls performance from Johnson was just the second time all season he had done that. 

Aiding Johnson on the offensive end was the duo of center Kaleb Tarczewski and swingman Elliott Pitts. Tarczewski ended up with 14 points on 5-7 shooting and Pitts came off the bench with a spark on the way to tallying 12 points on four makes from behind the arc. 

Speaking of 3-pointers, the Wildcats recorded seven makes from deep as a team against Colorado. The last time Arizona had seven 3-pointers in one games was almost one month ago to the date, on Dec. 16 against Oakland in the final home nonconference game of the season.

Arizona forward Brandon Ashley, who finished the game with seven points and 11 rebounds, said the team needs guys like Pitts to step up and hit shots from beyond the arc in order to be an effective offensive team. 

“It’s definitely big,” Ashley said. “We don’t necessarily have a lot of people that you would consider great shooters. They definitely help stretch the floor out and everything. That creates space for us to get to the rim for us to post up and do everything that we do inside.” 

Arizona’s ability to score on the interior had been questioned as of late, and the team responded in a big way against a Colorado team missing starting forwards Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott. The Wildcats outscored the Buffaloes 30-14 down low and dominated the rebounding margin 41-26 to boot. 

Looking forward, Arizona has a huge matchup with No. 8 Utah on Saturday in McKale Center. Miller and his players know it’s a benchmark game that could show what kind of team these Arizona Wildcats are going to be. 

“I told our guys in the locker room, Utah is the best team in the Pac-12,” Miller said. “They’re the deepest, most experienced, they believe in what they do the most and they execute on both sides of the ball. We’re going to have to upset them here in McKale.”

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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