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a-Clinched outright regular-season title
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No surprise. Sean Miller harps on poor rebounding in radio interview. "We're fortunate to have won in spite of it."
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Arizona survived one of its worst performances of the season, especially with its rebounding, with a 74-69 victory Wednesday night in front of a crowd of only 5,651 fans at Gill Coliseum.
Perhaps the Wildcats’ lackluster play, especially on the boards with Oregon State having a 43-34 edge, was a result of all of the empty seats at Gill. That was most feared place to play in the Pac-12 before Lute Olson came to Tucson in 1983. The eyesore of a crowd, an uncommon occurrence in past years there, made the game more difficult to watch.
Pac-12 Player of the Year frontrunner Nick Johnson came ready to play despite the atmosphere, scoring a career-high 25 points with six rebounds and four assists. He had one of his better games despite getting popped on the side of the head while driving the lane early in the first half.
Arizona’s off-performance could be because the Wildcats wrapped up the Pac-12 regular-season title on Sunday against Stanford. That might be one reason why the Wildcats were outscored 15-9 in second-chance points after blanking the Beavers 13-0 last month in a 76-54 victory over Craig Robinson’s team at McKale Center.
No matter the reason, no excuses apply. The Wildcats prevailed and a win at this stage of the year is important for momentum heading deeper into March. Arizona won despite Aaron Gordon’s season-low two rebounds before fouling out in 34 minutes.
During the postgame radio interview with Brian Jeffries of KCUB (1290-AM), Sean Miller went so far as to say Oregon State “stripped us of who we are” in terms of the rebounding disparity.
The Wildcats (28-2 overall, 15-2 Pac-12) ranked third in the nation with a plus-9.2 rebounding margin entering the game. Oregon State’s frontcourt combo of Devon Collier (6’8″ and 215) and Eric Moreland (6’10, 218) combined for 23 of the Beavers’ rebounds. Bullish center Angus Brandt (6’10, 245) also made his presence felt by tussling with Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski all night.
Another 6’10” player Daniel Gomis (a power forward who weighs 213) played with reckless abandon and fouled out. One of his fouls was a technical called because he grabbed Tarczewski in the groin.
“It was very hard fought game,” Miller told Jefferies. “Oregon State is a big, physical, very talented team … there’s nobody who they take a backseat to in terms of their physicality. They stripped us of who we are. … They are the only team that has done that (plus-nine rebounding edge) to us. We have to rebound and be a more physical, tough-minded team.”
Whereas Oregon State had the brawn, Arizona had the brains in the last stage of the game by playing with maturity. Fox Sports 1 broadcaster Marques Johnson said more than once that the basketball IQs of the teams became a factor.
Arizona regained its defensive form in the last five minutes, forcing Oregon State into costly turnovers and tough, contested shots.
The game was close until the last couple of minutes but Arizona never trailed after Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored on a strong move to the basket with 13:02 left to give the Wildcats a 51-50 lead. Oregon State had almost a five-minute scoring drought from 5:17 left until 18 seconds remained.
Roberto Nelson’s layup at that point cut Arizona’s lead to 71-66 but the game was practically over. Nelson’s basket ended a stretch in which Oregon State missed three jumpers and two free throws on one-and-one attempts and committed three turnovers. The Beavers made only 16 of their 29 free throw attempts.
Arizona made 19 of 30 from the free throw line — “For us, sometimes we’ll take that,” Miller said — and T.J. McConnell kept things under control with the Wildcats committing only eight turnovers.
T.J. McConnell now has 34 assists and just 4 turnovers in Arizona's last five games. Winning player. The gas in the Wildcats' engine.
McConnell finished with eight assists and only one turnover in 34 minutes. He has recorded 34 assists and only four turnovers in his last five games.
Tarczewski responded to Oregon State’s physical challenge with 12 points and nine rebounds. He shot the ball only four times and made three. He and Johnson converted 6 of 9 free throw attempts while Hollis-Jefferson (13 points/six rebounds) chipped in 5 of 8.
Gabe York provided Arizona a much-needed boost from the perimeter, connecting on four three-pointers, tying a season-high. He finished 4 of 9 from beyond the arc. He is 7 of 14 from there in his last two games.
Nelson, who scored only 10 points last month in Tucson, finished with a team-high 25 points. He had to shoot 22 times to reach that mark, however, making only seven.
“In the last 7:30 of the game, we regained our defensive form and were able to get big stops,” Miller told Jeffries. “It’s a credit to the team for being resilient.”