Is it possible for the 12th seeded team to be the Pac-12 tournament favorites? That might be a stretch but you can bet Arizona isn’t thrilled to see Washington next on the schedule again after an assertive 69-63 win by the Dawgs in Tucson in the regular season finale. The win gave the Huskies a sweep of the desert and its first pair of conference road wins as they finish 15-16 (5-13) in the regular season.
Washington made an early emphasis to get the ball down low to Isaiah Stewart. On the 1st possession of the game Marcus Tsohonis threw him a jump ball and he somehow came down with it and put it back up for a layup. The teams traded early baskets including an off balance late shot clock 3 by Tsohonis and the Huskies held an early 7-6 lead at the first media timeout.
Jaden McDaniels came off the bench and quickly asserted himself as the best player on the floor in a game with 5 likely 1st round picks come this June as he started out with an early jumper. Washington dominated in the paint over the next several minutes as Washington got 4 straight dunks or point blank layups on assists to help build a 17-10 lead.
Meanwhile the defense looked as swarming as the Matisse Thybulle-captained unit from last season. Arizona appeared flummoxed with the tangle of arms jumping at them from all directions. McDaniels had 3 weakside blocks in the first half and the Huskies held serve in rebounding while forcing 10 Wildcat turnovers.
The only Arizona offense came at the free throw line as 4 Washington players picked up 2+ fouls during the half (Wright- 3, Stewart, McDaniels, Carter- 2). Arizona made 12/16 from the free throw line although one of the misses came on the front end of a 1 and 1. Stewart and McDaniels each had highlight tip dunks which was followed by Battle and McDaniels 3-pointers to extend the lead out further. A late Carter runner in the closing seconds gave Washington a 38-23 edge at halftime.
The second half started in a similar matter as Stewart caught another contested lob and threw it down for a thunderous dunk. The rim finally opened up for Arizona though as Dylan Smith hit 3 consecutive wide open 3’s after UA was 1/8 in the first half to cut the lead down to 10. Washington kept getting the ball to Stewart though as he was fouled a combined 4 times on consecutive possessions and just kept scoring.
The 3-point barrage kept coming from Arizona though as Smith hit his 4th deep shot of the half and Nico Mannion dribbled into a 3-pointer of his own bringing the ball down the court on a fast break. Meanwhile Washington’s ball security faded as Hamier Wright committed a pair of ghastly turnovers and Jaden McDaniels was called for a travel. Mannion’s 3 pulled the Wildcats to within 8 and that was the count at the under 12 timeout.
The foul trouble from the first half finally caught up to Washington as Naz Carter and Hameir Wright each picked up their 4th foul before the 9 minute mark. The Wright foul came on a Nico Mannion and-1 jumper which pulled the game to within 5 points at 53-48.
After a pair of Bey free throws Dylan Smith hit his 5th 3-pointer of the 2nd half and brought the game to within 4 points for the first time since the opening minutes. Finally the Huskies caught a break with some overzealous reffing to stem the bleeding. Christian Koloko was called for his 4th foul (10th team foul) on an over the back and then got a very dubious technical complaining which eliminated him from the game. McDaniels and Stewart each knocked down a pair at the charity stripe to made UW 11/11 from the line and extend the lead to 8 with 5 minutes left.
On the next trip down the floor though for Washington Naz Carter was called for a charge on a flop by Josh Green which fouled him out of the game with just 4 points. A dunk by Zeke Nnaji brought Arizona back to within 4. Jamal Bey came up in the clutch against Arizona State and did it again with his first 3-pointer in 5 games and Jaden McDaniels hit one of his own and suddenly Washington held a 10 point advantage 65-55 with 2:38 remaining.
Following the McDaniels triple Sean Miller called a timeout for Arizona and in celebration Elijah Hardy was called for a technical and then committed a personal once play resumed. The Wildcats hit just 1 of the 3 free throws and left the Huskies still in command. Both teams traded misses over the next two minutes until Dylan Smith hit his 6th 3-pointer of the second half to pull within 65-59. Eiljah Hardy missed a pair of late free throws, the first two misses of the game for Washington, to give Arizona a brief chance but Jamal Bey went 4/4 at the line to clinch it.
Jaden McDaniels finished with a Pac-12 best for him 20 points to pace all scorers to go along with 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. Isaiah Stewart added 16 points and Jamal Bey finished with 12.
Double Bonus Dots
- This game had to feel similar for Arizona to the home final for the Huskies against Washington State. The Wildcats were just 15/22 from the free throw line including 2 misses on the front end of 1 and 1’s while the Huskies started out 13/13 before a pair of Hardy misses and wound up 15/17. That was the difference in a 6 point game.
- Arizona shot just 20% in the first half but behind Dylan Smith’s 19 second half points came roaring back on 7/13 shooting from deep. Once again Washington let an opposing player get hot from outside and kept losing track of them in the zone. It didn’t cost them tonight but it could have.
- The Husky point guard duo of Marcus Tsohonis and Elijah Hardy combined for just 5 points on 2/9 shooting but they were generally able to push the pace and consistently get the ball down low to Isaiah Stewart. Stewart was fouled approximately 6 times on non-shooting fouls so while the efforts to get him the ball did not result in immediate points, it wore Arizona down and helped Washington get to the line later. Hardy in particular played a much better game than his stat line.
- Jamal Bey has gone through plenty of offensive struggles this season but his re-emergence in Arizona was a big part of Washington’s wins. He finishes the road trip just 1 of 2 from behind the 3-point arc but 15/16 from the free throw line. Between Bey, Stewart, and McDaniels the Huskies now have a trio of players capable of knocking down free throws with confidence at the end of close games which was something missing for all of conference play. I expected him to score ~10 points per game this season and it’s such a relief for the offense when he can be a steady presence.
- Naz Carter was the MVP of Thursday night’s game but he was a virtual no-show on offense in this one. He fouled out with 4 points on 1/8 shooting plus 5 turnovers. Carter did have a pair of nice steals and played impressive defense but three of his turnovers were on travels trying to NBA Euro step in fast break situations rather than just driving all the way to the hoop or taking it back out without numbers.
- By the time it started this game had no impact on the Pac-12 tournament seeding. Due to tiebreakers Arizona was locked into the #5 seed and the Huskies were locked into the #12 seed. The Wildcats still had plenty to play for though as their NCAA tournament seeding is trending the wrong direction as they’ve lost 4 of 5. When these two teams square off again Arizona will be getting back Chase Jeter from suspension and may get back Max Hazzard who is out for personal reasons so this won’t be the exact same lineup a few days from now. Still, Washington’s confidence is sky high at the moment and it doesn’t seem crazy to think they could make a run.