Arizona was down 10-2 and looked discombobulated. The Wildcats scored only 10 points in the first 12 minutes. They trailed 45-37 in the second half after a 9-0 Washington State run.
Arizona’s game in Pullman on Saturday night was rarely pretty. That’s fine. Coach Sean Miller isn’t much about pretty anyway. He’d prefer gritty. Are the Wildcats tough enough?
For one night, they were.
They found a way to win 65-63 through defense (Pac-10-leading scorer Klay Thompson was held to nine points, his lowest output of the season), rebounding (a 40-30 edge) and a certain resolve at the end of a long Pac-10 road trip.
“One of the things I told the guys after the game — and I really mean this — if we wouldn’t have won, the message for me would have been the same. I was very proud and really happy to see us fight,” Miller said in his postgame interview on 1290-AM.
“We were behind but we kept fighting.”
The loss ended a three-game losing streak to Washington State. Arizona (16-4 overall, 5-2 Pac-10) tied UCLA for second place in the conference behind 7-1 Washington.
Here are four things that went right for the Wildcats at Washington State:
1. Derrick Williams
He’s always on this kind of list. He didn’t shoot well, but he was uncharacteristically relentless on the boards, finishing with a career-high 19. He had 17 points, including a key 3-pointer that stopped WSU’s 9-0 run when it was 45-37.
“What more can you say about him that we haven’t already?” Miller said.
Well, we can try.
Williams battled down low with Washington State’s DeAngelo Casto, who spent last season tossing around the Cats like they were peanut shells. He started the game with two quick inside baskets against Williams.
Miller noticed a change in his star forward soon after that.
“He was feeling the game out early and, to me, gave Casto a couple of easy scores. It didn’t look right, feel right for our team. He flipped it. Offensively, he was physical. He got fouled, had nine offensive rebounds. He was just really a man. He was just clearly the best player on the court.”
2. Kyle Fogg
He is bigger and stronger than last season, and he talked before the season began how that would help him on defense, fighting through screens, not wearing down from contact.
He had the assignment on Thompson most of the night. Thompson was 4 of 16 from the field, including 1 of 7 from 3-point range. Did he flat-out miss some shots he normally would have made? Sure. But Miller gave a healthy amount of credit to Fogg, praising his concentration and effort.
“Klay Thompson may have missed some shots, but tonight I thought as a team we really made him earn all his shots,” Miller said.
3. Jamelle Horne
He was scoreless against Washington on Thursday and went nearly 35 minutes of game time against the Cougars before scoring his first points. That was a 3-pointer. He hit two more late in the game, finishing with nine points.
After going 0-for-the-road-trip, he hit three 3-pointers in a span of about 3 1/2 minutes. Welcome to Jamelle Horne’s world.
“I can’t say enough good things about Jamelle Horne tonight,” Miller said.
“He had one of those games you want to forget at Washington. One of the hardest things to do as an athlete is put a really bad performance behind you and quickly flip the script.
“His 3-point shooting was timely and important, and that is what you want a senior to do. In large part in the second half, our offense was a tribute to him making some big threes.”
4. Guard play
This has been the biggest area of concern for the Wildcats. Washington chewed up the Arizona’s guards on Thursday night. On Saturday night, point guard MoMo Jones had 11 points, five assists and only one turnover.
Can the Cats clone that performance for the rest of the season?
“MoMo Jones, we put the scrutiny on him and sometimes deservedly so,” Miller said. “As a point guard, a lot is expected. But what a different feeling it was watching him have five assists and one turnover. You watch the team, it starts to flow.”
Now, Arizona flows back home for a big pair of game — UCLA on Thursday night on ESPN and Saturday against USC.