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Unselfish, unbeaten top-ranked Arizona Wildcats blast Arizona State

Nick Johnson was in a celebrating mood in the first half. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Johnson was in a celebrating mood in the first half. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

There was no drama at McKale Center on Thursday night.

Arizona started fast, unleashed a Category 5 defense on Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson, threw a 7-foot blanket over center Jordan Bachynski and took advantage of the fact the guard Jermaine Marshall didn’t play because of a groin injury.

That was pretty much that.

The top-ranked Wildcats romped to a 91-68 victory at McKale Center, furthering the gap between the state rivals and moving to 18-0 on the season.

OK, so there might have been a little drama at the end, manufactured solely for the sake of trivia.

With about two minutes to play, Arizona had six players in double-digit points, with Gabe York a 3-pointer shy of joining the club. On cue, York drained his third 3-pointer of the game.

“It’s hard to have seven guys in double-figures,” coach Sean Miller said.

Right, he is.

Arizona hadn’t had a game with seven players in double-digit scoring in a decade plus a day. It last happened on Jan. 15, 2004, in a 99-90 loss at USC when the Cats had guys like Hassan Adams, Salim Stoudamire, Andre Iguodala and Channing Frye.

On Thursday night, Nick Johnson led the way for Arizona with 17 points. Aaron Gordon had 16. Kaleb Tarczewski scored 12. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson put in 11 points. Brandon Ashley, T.J. McConnell and York each had 10.

Those are seven tight-fitting pieces to a puzzle that when put together display a big “No. 1.”

“As we’ve said a ton, we’re unselfish,” McConnell said.

T.J. McConnell blocks a shot from Jahii Carson early in the game. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. McConnell blocks a shot from Jahii Carson early in the game. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

“Everyone’s unselfish, not just one guy. We can score at any position. That’s what makes us so dangerous. When we’re unselfish like that, hitting shots, getting it to the big guys, I think we’re pretty tough to stop.”

Arizona State, without Marshall’s 15.6 points per game, in McKale Center in front of an energized Red-Out crowd, had no chance.

Carson missed his first six shots and didn’t score until making a free throw with 8:29 to go. He finished with 20 points — two above his average — but all the points can be defined by one word: Inconsequential. Arizona blocked four of his shots.

“It’s nothing I haven’t seen before,” he said of Arizona’s size, “but it is definitely tougher when there’s three big guys in the lane for them and sometimes five out there.”

Five? At times, it must have seemed that way.

Carson’s early misses including being blocked by Tarczewski, shooting an air ball, missing the rim on another jumper, and being blocked by McConnell as he drove to the basket.

Wait. Blocked by McConnell?

“Well, I get a block about every 40 games …,” said McConnell, a 6-1 junior point guard who actually has 18 career blocks. “I saw my opportunity and just kind of swatted at it. I got lucky and got it.”

Really, there’s not much lucky about the Wildcats.

They play hard; they play defense; they take good shots; they rebound; they don’t panic; they don’t play recklessly; they don’t care who gets all the credit for putting the ball in the basket.

And there definitely wasn’t anything lucky about holding Bachynski, a 7-foot-2 center, to no field goals. He went 0 for 3 from the field and was in foul trouble for much of his 23 minutes.

“It wasn’t only me,” Tarczewski said.

“People were digging down from the wing, stuff like that, helping me out. We really did great defensively.”

While we’ve been marveling at Johnson’s all-around game, McConnell’s glue-guy control of the offense, Gordon’s athleticism and dunks, the cool ease to Ashley’s game … we’ve nearly missed Tarczewski’s improvement on defense.

“One of the things that has happened to our team, Kaleb Tarczewski has become a great low-post defender,” Miller said.

“He’s smarter. With weight loss and his transformation of his body, he moves quicker. He’s able to move better and he’s able to still be physical. He hasn’t just done it in today’s game. … If you start following our team, he has defended really, really well.”

In addition to stopping Bachynski, who averages nearly 13 points and shoots 60 percent from the field, Tarczewski was responsible for putting up a big road block against Carson on ball screens.

“It’s his quickness and his intelligence and size that kind of anchor our defense,” Miller said. “He does a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”

That’s fitting.

Johnson summed up Thursday night and the whole season in five words.

“We’re a simple unselfish team,” he said.

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