The Arizona Wildcats were down eight points with less than seven minutes to go at Michigan.
There was no panic.
Only ruthless efficiency.
Arizona became No. 1 with defense, rebounding and team play.
Arizona stayed No. 1 with defense, rebounding and team play.
The top-ranked Wildcats scored every time they had the ball down the stretch — scoring 22 points on 11 consecutive trips down the court — rallying to win 72-70 at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon.
Coach Sean Miller would say it felt like the Wildcats had everything pulling against them, including a long trip to snowy weather, an early wake-up call for a 10 a.m. Tucson time start, a red-hot Glenn Robinson III in the first half, an ankle injury to center Kaleb Tarczewski … and that eight-point deficit late in the game in front of a hostile crowd against a talented team.
“We had every reason to kind of say, ‘Not today,” Miller said on his postgame interview on 1290-AM (KCUB).
“But I give our guys a lot of credit. We made this trip with the intention of being at our best, and we kept fighting.”
Arizona had 17 offensive rebounds and, through persistence, was able to convert those into second-chance points when it mattered. That started with less than seven minutes to go, with the Cats retaining possession after missing two shots.
– Brandon Ashley fed Aaron Gordon for a dunk.
– Ashley scored on a 17-foot jumper beyond the free throw line.
– Ashley dunked on a wrap-around pass under the basket from Gordon.
– Gordon scored inside off an assist from T.J. McConnell.
– Gordon drove to the basket for a layup.
– Rondae Hollis-Jefferson converted a 3-point play to give Arizona a 62-62 lead with 2:32 to go. That was his first basket of the game.
“Rondae deserves a lot of credit,” Miller said. “Today wasn’t necessarily his best game, and he didn’t let that bother him. He’s so much a winner.”
– Ashley spun and made a leaning jumper with 1:28 left.
– McConnell rebounded his own miss and gave the ball to Nick Johnson, who went one-on-one from up top, drawing a foul from Mitch McGary. He made both free throws for a 67-66 lead with 24.6 seconds left.
“There’s a lot of key plays in the game, but McConnell running down that corner rebound, I think that’s … a key play,” Michigan coach John Beilein said in his postgame press conference.
– Johnson made two more free throws with 9.1 seconds left.
– And he hit two from the free throw line with 6.1 seconds left.
– Gabe York finished the scoring by hitting 1 of 2 free throws with 1.4 left on the clock.
That’s 11 times with the ball, no turnovers, 22 points, all with Tarczewski on the bench after he briefly tried to go after rolling his right ankle.
“One thing in the second half we did a great job of is we got the ball inside and we took inside shots,” said Miller, whose team was down by nine at halftime and 11 soon after that.
“That was our advantage vs. Michigan, and eventually we exploited that, whether it be in our rebounding or shots around the basket.”
Arizona overcame 16 first-half points from Robinson, who made all seven of his shots from the field before the break. Miller put Gordon on Robinson in the second half, and Gordon’s length was bothersome, with Robinson hitting 1 of 2 shots after halftime, finishing with 20 points.
“I thought he did a good job individually,” Miller said of Gordon on Robinson, “but our team did a good job.”
Ashley, who continues to not get the national attention he deserves, scored a team-high 18 points. Johnson, Gordon and Tarczewski each had 14.
“This is as quality a win as you can have, in my opinion, in the country,” Miller said.
Arizona has earned every No. 1 vote it gets.
The Wildcats won at San Diego State, beat Duke in New York City and conquered Michigan on the road.
They have a combined rebounding advantage of plus-32 in those games. They held those opponents to 36.9 percent in the second half (28 of 76), including 30.8 percent (8 of 26) from behind the arc.
Arizona’s starters combined to make 41 of 48 free throw attempts in those games.
Defense, rebounding, team play … and clutch.
“That is as solid, well-coached, put-together, length, speed, backcourt, everything that I’ve seen,” Beilein said. “We feel good that we were right there, and with a break or two could have won the game, but Arizona’s really good.”
The Cats should be No. 1 for a while now, with home games against Southern (Thursday), NAU (Dec. 23), Washington State (Jan. 2) and Washington (Jan. 4) before a trip to UCLA on Jan. 9.