For a minute, or maybe more like 20 minutes, Thursday’s tip in Washington felt like déjà vu all over again. Arizona opened the game strong, building a 10-point lead before seeing its double-digit advantage steadily dissipate and eventually disappear. However, unlike its road game at Arizona State last weekend, the young Wildcats didn’t shy away from adversity and instead overcame a nine-point, second-half deficit to win in Seattle, 75-72.
Thursday night was all about the 3-Pointers. Arizona’s Max Hazzard hit a trey with five seconds left in the first half to give the Wildcats a 36-33 lead at intermission. The Huskies opened the second frame making their first six 3-Point attempts to lead 53-44 with 13:42 to play. Overall, Washington was 14-for-28 from deep for the game, including nine makes from behind the arc in the second half. Arizona would counter with 10 3-Pointers of its own, including the game-winner off the hot shooting hand of Jemarl Baker with 42.6 seconds left. Baker’s trey put the Wildcats up 74-72. From there, the Huskies would miss an ill-advised shot attempt from about 28 feet, turn the ball over, and then cap an awful final minute of regulation by tossing up an air ball with less than three seconds left.
Arizona’s Jemarl Baker finished with a season and career high 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting, which included four 3-Pointers. Baker would add four assists and not commit a single turnover. Impressively, Baker scored 14 points in the decisive second half. Nico Mannion had 16 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Stone Gettings contributed 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Zeke Nnaji, who only played seven minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, was held to single digits. The freshmen star still finished with nine points and a team-high eight rebounds.
The Huskies had four players in double figures. Shockingly, one of the four was not Isaiah Stewart, who entered the game averaging nearly 19 points a night. Against Arizona, Stewart finished with nine points and game-high 11 rebounds on just 3-for-13 shooting.
Rae Quan Battle led Washington with 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting from deep. Nahziah Carter had 13 points and five rebounds, while Jaden McDaniels had 12 points, five rebounds and five assists. Hameir Wright added 12 points and six rebounds.
How Arizona Won?
Critically, Arizona didn’t lose its composure once it fell behind 53-44. Every single one of Arizona’s losses this season can be attributed to second half swoons. After a slow start, it appeared the Wildcats would suffer the same fate as they have in previous losses to Baylor, Gonzaga, St. John’s, Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona State. Instead, this time Arizona remained true, didn’t panic, and finally started to make the exact same shots they spent the first seven minutes of the second half missing.
A key was Arizona only committing two turnovers after intermission, after committing eight in the opening frame. A second key was Arizona’s ability to outscore Washington 17-4 on fast break points. Sean Miller will also point to Arizona’s 17 assists on 24 field goals, despite the Wildcats only shooting 38.7 percent for the game.
Finally, Baker and Hazzard combining for 25 points off the bench helped Arizona negate poor shooting nights from starting guards Josh Green and Dylan Smith, who combined to make just 3-of-16 shots.
The unsung hero is Ira Lee. Sure, Lee only scored three points, but his seven rebounds and all-around hustle and physical toughness helped Arizona maintain during several difficult stretches against the Huskies. Lee’s presence was most felt on perhaps the game’s pivotal moment with just over four minutes remaining and Washington leading 69-67. Arizona had just pulled to within two points after Baker sank all three free throw attempts after being fouled on a shot from deep. Washington would then turn the ball over. On Arizona’s ensuing possession, a loose ball going out of bounds was saved by Lee. The reserve forward leapt over the baseline and tossed the ball blindly over his head and back into the waiting hands of Nnaji. Nnaji then found Baker for a wide open 3-Pointer that would give Arizona a 70-69 lead with 4:11 to go. Like that, Arizona’s quick 6-0 scoring run erased a five-point deficit and seemed to give the team the confidence it needed to ultimately close out the Huskies.
Another X Factor was Arizona’s ability to get to the foul line. Arizona would beat Washington in attempts at the charity stripe, 23-11, and would end up making nine more free throws than the Huskies.
Player of the Game
Nico Mannion and Jemarl Baker were fantastic, with the slight edge going to Baker for delivering in the clutch. The duo combined for 33 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
Stat of the Game
Three statistics really jump out, primarily because Arizona needed to excel in each of these areas to produce its first true road win of the season. First, Arizona only giving up six second chance points to Washington was impressive. Second, the Wildcats outscoring the Huskies on the break 17-4 was something that needed to happen in order for Arizona to win. The final statistic, and perhaps the most important, is Arizona only committing 10 turnovers.
Arizona visits Washington State on Saturday, February 1 in Pullman. Tip time is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. MST. The game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.