It’s taken more than 20-plus games to see Arizona having fun. In fact, it’s the second consecutive game Arizona has looked that way.
Heck, did you see the dousing UA coach Sean Miller got in the locker room on Saturday?
Winning does fun things to teams.
That was the case on Thursday night when UA defeated visiting Washington State 69-53 in McKale Center.
“We truly are that team that is playing for each other,” Miller said. “… that’s what we are playing for, nothing else. We want to finish our season strong.”
It was a struggle in the first half as UA had a hard time trying to solve the Cougar zone. Then came the second half, when UA outscored WSU 41-29 in the second half.
Eventually, it was a case of UA wearing down the Cougars. And it came from the defense, something absent from time to time this season.
“I do, I do,” Miller said when asked if he thought his team wore WSU down. “We closed out on their 3-point shooters. What’s the one they did? They killed us on the glass. They got 16 second shots. They converted on some of them.”
Still Arizona was able to overcome that with that big second half.
It made them almost giddy. But, winning does that to a group.
It’s about playing well – or better – defense. Hitting key shots. And, well, playing like a team where everyone seems to get into a groove. Again, that was the case Thursday night.
“I think we have a collection of good players,” Miller said to the question of the team playing well together. “It’s not just one or two of the guys doing the scoring. We’re balanced. And we have a lot of younger guys who can make plays.
Miller brought up Azuolas Tubelis’ “deceptive” nine points and nine rebounds. Bennedict Mathurin had 14 points, returning to form after a couple of not-so-good games. James Akinjo had 19 points, most in the second half.
Terrell Brown had eight assists and one turnover, getting back in the starting lineup after it was announced Kerr Kriisa was ruled out with a groin injury.
“Terrell Brown had an outstanding game,” Miller said. “Most importantly, he played 35 minutes, had four blocked shots and one steal. He really embraced the defensive side of the ball.”
He made the game hard for WSU’s Noah Williams, who struggled offensively all night. Stop Williams you have a good chance of stopping WSU. UA did that by having him go 2 for 15 from the floor.
Miller called Brown the “steadying force” on the team.
He was a catalyst.
Maybe because he’s seeing his final days as a Cat come to a close. Or maybe not. He declined to talk about his future, given he’s a fifth-year senior. But he did say it’s been “fun” playing for and with his “brothers.”
“I was just thinking that it the locker room,” Brown said, “It was a fun journey. I kind of don’t want it to end. All these guys are my brothers. We’re a real tight, close family… I don’t know what next year holds.”
For a night or at least the last couple of games, it’s seems to be fun.