The Arizona-Washington State game never had a chance to be high-scoring enough to earn fans free tacos.
Perhaps commemorative bricks would have been in order.
The Cougars missed their first 16 shots from the field — Clank-a-rama? Brick-a-thon? — and sent scribes scurrying to the record books to see just how historically dominant Arizona’s defense could be Thursday night. Or if you prefer, how inept the WSU offense was Thursday night.
Turns out, the game was a combination of those things.
Top-ranked Arizona won 60-25 in a no-glam game at McKale Center, unless you have a fetish for slow-down basketball and missed field goals. It wasn’t all dreary, though. That new big, bright, high-definition, looks-like-it-belongs-in-an-NBA-arena videoboard sure looked marvelous perched above half court.
“It’s distracting,” said Arizona freshman forward Aaron Gordon. “It really is. It’s so much clearer and bigger than what we previously had. I’m a very focused-in person, but sometimes I caught myself drifting up.”
Past the mid-point of the first half, Gordon tilted his head back and drifted his gaze up to check out the new board, which was boldly pronouncing that Washington State had a grand total of one point. Yep, one.
“I think everyone noticed that,” Gordon said of the measly scoring output, “but you just keep playing defense like you have been.”
The Cougs had one point until there was 8:55 left in the half. Then they had two. Then three. Then, finally, a basket. Royce Woolridge scored on a semi-fast break layup with 6:42 left in the half.
“It’s just hard to score on them,” Woolridge said. “They’re big in the paint and it was just really hard to score on them because they’re so active.”
Now, it’s true that Washington State isn’t particularly good, but it has to be noted that the Cougars were playing without leading scorer DaVonte Lacy (recovering from an appendectomy) and another starting guard Dexter Kernich-Drew (concussion).
“DaVonte Lacy is having a great year. To me, he’s an All-Pac-12 performer,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
“We certainly didn’t get their best shot. Having said that, I thought our defensive effort was outstanding. We had a lot of players concentrating, being where they were supposed to, and we tried to use our size around the basket. We did that very well.”
Yeah, Arizona is really big, really long, and really likes to play defense.
It’s what the Cats do. Defense and rebounding is why they are 14-0 for the second consecutive season. They have held three consecutive opponents (including Southern and NAU) to fewer than 20 points in the first half.
They entered the week sixth nationally in scoring defense (56.7 points per game allowed) and 12th in field goal percentage defense (37.2). Arizona has out-rebounded each of its 14 foes.
“Our goal all year was to be a top 10 defense,” guard Nick Johnson said.
“I think we should push that to top five and eventually to the No. 1 defense in the country. I think we have the tools to make it happen. I guess this is an example of what we can do.”
Let’s go to the record-book damage:
– WSU, which tried to muck up the game by bleeding the shot clock on every possession, matched its lowest point total since scoring 25 in a 1938 game.
– WSU set McKale Center lows for points in a half (seven), field goals (two) and shooting percentage (9.5, 2 of 21).
– WSU set McKale Center lows for points in a game (25), field goals (nine) and shooting percentage (20.0, 9 of 45). Three of those field goals came in the final 2:19 against a lineup of mostly walk-ons.
“I think we leave here feeling good about what we were able to accomplish,” Miller said. “A lot of guys took pride in getting stops.”
The game definitely was one for the record books, which isn’t the same as it being memorable. Arizona’s offense, working against a zone a majority of the night, wasn’t blazing, either. Gordon nearly lit up the HD screens with a reverse dunk, but he couldn’t get it to fall in traffic.
Kaleb Tarczewski managed 11 points to be the only player in double figures.
“It definitely wasn’t our best offensive performance,” point guard T.J. McConnell said.
But it’s one down, 17 to go in the Pac-12.
“We wanted to start this Pac-12 season off right,” Johnson said. “We love what we did in the non-conference. We’re really here to prove to people that we’re the No. 1 team and we want to keep it that way.”