After losing their first game of the year to CAL earlier this season,University of Arizona basketball made their revenge worthwhile Wednesday night as they toppled the Bears 87-59. The Wildcats were working on all cylinders, and ran away with the game by the end of the first half.
In their second straight game where a mercy rule should’ve been taken into consideration, Saturday’s 88-61 win at Colorado, Arizona is finally starting to get back in rhythm after the loss of Brandon Ashley. With March Madness quickly approaching, the Cats couldn’t have chosen a better time to turn on the after burners.
Arizona’s defense was top notch, forcing 14 turnovers and out-rebounding the Bears on the defensive block 27-18 . The Wildcats have not let a team score above 75 points the whole season, and Wednesday’s game should cement their status among the nation’s top defenses. The Wildcats hard-nosed defense has allowed them to push the tempo to their liking, and create quick fast breaks on the offensive end. If Arizona continues to play like this, it will be hard to imagine them not making a deep tournament run.
Nick Johnson’s performance made ESPN’s Dana O’Neil’s most recent feature look like a journalistic masterpiece. O’Neil praised Johnson for his comprehensive gameplay, and this game revealed just that. Johnson stuffed the stat sheet with 22 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block, and 1 steal. Ultimately, Arizona’s success is dependent on Johnson’s stellar play. In the Wildcats two losses this season, Johnson shot a combined 6-34 from the field and had 8 turnovers. While still somewhat towards the bottom of the list for the player of the year award,Wednesday night’s performance should help bolster his resume for his John Wooden Award candidacy.
Kaleb Tarczewski added an efficient game down low, scoring 17 points on 7-9 shooting. While Tarczewski overpowered CAL opponent Richard Solomon on various attempts, he seemed to have a less fluid low-post approach. Tarczewski made a lot of plays harder for himself by pivoting the wrong way in the post. In another instance he knocked his opponent down, leaving himself an open shot, and still missed the attempt. Tarczewski has made great strides this season, but needs to work on his overall post-play if he expects to match up with the likes of Kansas’ Joel Embiid in the tournament.
Another positive for Arizona in this game is that they have a strong distribution of assists amongst teammates, as three players recorded five assists or more. The Wildcats efficient passing lead the way for a variety of highlight dunks from Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The compilation of these dunks deserves a spot in Sport Center’s Top 10 plays. But seriously, the Cats slammed it home more times than CAL’s leading scorer made a shot. Not only did these emphatic jams bring the crowd to their feet, but they also energized the team to keep up their tempo on both ends of the court.
With three games left in the season, Arizona stands 26-2 and looks to be petitioning to reacquire the #1 ranking before entering tournament play. Assuming that the Wildcats continue to ride this momentum, they should be a lock for a top seed in the tournament. Arizona will play one more game at McKale against Stanford this year on sunday. They will then travel north for the full Oregon experience, as they play at Oregon St. and Oregon next week. The Pac-12 tournament will then begin March 12th in Las Vegas.