Arizona’s defense clamps down on cold Cougars
TUCSON, Ariz. – The raucous, sold-out crowd at the McKale Center on Thursday appeared to want more than a blowout in Arizona’s Pac-12 opener. They wanted carnage befitting the sea of red in the arena.
The partisan fans weren’t going to show any mercy to the visiting team nor the refs, no matter how lopsided the score got.
The Wildcats delivered.
The good news for Washington State is that it won’t get any more daunting than that. By definition, top-ranked Arizona (14-0, 1-0 Pac-12) is widely considered to be the best team in the country, but the Wildcats somehow looked even better as they beat the Cougars 60-25.
“Arizona jumped on us early and it never really ended,” WSU coach Ken Bone said.
Junior guard Royce Woolridge got the Cougars on the board with a free throw 3 minutes into the game. That point served as WSU’s only score until more than 11 minutes had passed. Meanwhile, the Wildcats built up their lead.
“We just weren’t making shots,” Woolridge said. “It happened and we will learn from it and have to get ready for Sunday (against Arizona State). It’s a learning process and we have a lot of young players and we can all get better from this.”
Those younger players had a large amount of responsibility for WSU, which played without leading scorer DaVonte Lacy and starting wing Dexter Kernich-Drew. Lacy, who is recovering from appendix surgery, made the trip to Arizona. Kernich-Drew is recovering from a concussion.
Freshman guard Que Johnson took Lacy’s spot in the lineup, while forward Junior Longrus replaced Kernich-Drew, pushing forward D.J. Shelton out to the wing.
The WSU offense had been coming around, as the Cougars scored 78 or more points in three of their last four games. But against Arizona the offense was stagnant, consistently going 5 or more minutes without a field goal and shooting 20 percent on the night.
“They came out and played hard, we didn’t really have a game plan offensively,” Shelton said. “…I think DaVonte’s presence, missing him was kind of what hurt us.”
Only Longrus made multiple field goals and he led the team with six points. WSU’s 25 points were an all-time low for the McKale Center, as were its nine field goals. It was the lowest point total for a Pac-12 team in 15 seasons.
“It seemed like it just snowballed and as it snowballed one thing that was impressive was Arizona being able to sustain a high level of intensity, especially through the half,” Bone said. “Their defense was still good even as the score became lopsided.”
WSU missed its first 16 field-goal attempts and didn’t make a basket until 6:42 was left in the first half. The Wildcats’ relentless defense had the Cougars searching for free throws until Woolridge finally got the Cougars on with a layup.
Shelton hit another, moments later, and WSU found itself on a 5-0 run.
Such offensive success was a rarity against the Wildcats. The Cougars trailed 28-7 at halftime, making just a pair of layups while missing 19 shots. The Cougars didn’t hit a jump shot until early in the second half, courtesy of Longrus. They hit double digits when Will DiIorio hit the team’s first 3-pointer of the game with 12:21 left.
The Wildcats entered the game ranked fourth nationally in rebounding margin, and beat the Cougars in that department 42 to 28.
If there was a bright spot for the Cougars it came on defense, where the Cougars held the potent Arizona offense in check for most of the game. But the Wildcats scored 21 points over the game’s final 10 minutes to put up a healthy 60.