This was a game where you wouldn’t have blamed Arizona coach Sean Miller if he would have sweated through his shirt. You couldn’t tell if he did in as much as he kept his jacket on all game vs. Oregon on Saturday afternoon.
There were moments when you thought the jacket would be coming off, like at halftime when his team was clinging to a 41-38 lead.
The game was physical, herky-jerky, and well, whatever else you want to call it.
“The play before halftime I almost had an out-of-body experience,” he said, referring to the non-call out of bounds play that gave the Ducks the ball. “I thought I was having a stroke in the locker room. I came to my senses. I just saw the ball go off them. No official is perfect but that was probably one they missed.”
He later had a moment when he was showing – and telling – Deandre Ayton was hacked to pieces during a play.
But what better for excitement than a non-walk-in-the-park game on a Saturday afternoon? Arizona won 90-83 in going-away fashion on the scoreboard but hardly on the heart.
Arizona needed this game to test its toughness; Oregon needed this game just to see how good it was/is.
“It was a huge win, especially because how well Oregon is rolling right now,” said Arizona’s Rawle Alkins, who hit a key 3-pointer in the game’s final five minutes. “They had that big win in Phoenix and we didn’t want to lose because we have to protect our home court. (And) last time they came out here and beat us.”
And those with long memories and suspicious minds wouldn’t have appreciated a loss given Arizona’s tough win on Thursday and last Saturday’s loss to Colorado.
But Arizona was good enough – spectacular at times – on Saturday.
It surely didn’t disappoint in terms of excitement.
Allonzo Trier had a team-high 25 points. Deandre Ayton had 24 points. Alkins had 13 and Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Cartwright each had 10. In the perfect world isn’t that how a highly thought of team is supposed to fill the box score?
I exaggerate, but Arizona looked like it was ready to begin the game, jumping out early to 21-9 lead – in what appeared to be its get-right game – before Oregon stormed back.
“I think we are getting better with that every day,” Alkins said of his team’s start. “I think we will start clicking better throughout the next games.”
Still, there was that Duck comeback to see what it is made of.
“I thought it was the best overall win of the season for us,” Miller said. “I think Oregon is becoming one of the best teams in our conference. They are fearless and they play hard … we rose to the challenge.”
It’s exactly what Arizona needed.
Arizona was able to overcome mistakes (17 turnovers) to get the win and move to 14-4 overall and 4-1 in the Pac-12. Arizona was good enough to overcome a couple of bad “pockets” to get the win, Miller said.
Still, I ask the question: did Arizona win it in the end or did Oregon lose it?
Tied at 76-76, Arizona outscored Oregon 14-7 to seal the deal. In that stretch Arizona was able to hit just two field goals (one an alley-oop to Ayton) and a 3-pointer by Trier and the rest were free throws. Oregon in that stretch combusted with turnovers and bad decisions.
Alkins said it was defense that was the difference.
Miller used the word “unraveled” for those two pockets UA struggled. But for the most important time of the game, it didn’t.
“The last four minutes we always take a lot of pride in finishing the game,” Miller said. “If you’ve always been in the winner’s circle and believe in yourself and think about being the best down the stretch – everybody wants to be that team – the players that were out there did a really good job.”
And for about 30 minutes Arizona looked like one of the better teams in the country. But again, for a couple stretches, it didn’t.
What was good for UA was it outscored Oregon by 13 from the free-throw line, 34-21. UA hit 34 of 37 freebies.
“You just can’t underestimate that,” Miller said of the importance. “We were an excellent free-throw shooting team a year ago. It’s why we won so many close games. (The) same for this one.”