With 3:38 remaining and Washington trailing 60-58, the Huskies had an opportunity for a victory over a No. 1 team for the first time since 2004 and just the second in program history. But Arizona went on an 11-3 run to end Saturday’s game in Tucson, spoiling what could have been an epic day in UW basketball history.
As it was, Washington played Arizona tougher, losing 71-62, than anyone could have imagined. The Wildcats’ size and athleticism prevailed against a UW team compromised by the loss of Shawn Kemp Jr. to fouls early in the second half, four personals incurred by Perris Blackwell and sloppy execution in the stretch.
“They are really a good team and they have a lot of long players,” said Blackwell. “Sometimes, size can just beat you.”
Turnovers and defensive lapses had more to do with Washington’s loss than Arizona’ size advantage, but the Huskies gave the Wildcats all they wanted, racing to a 35-33 halftime lead.
Washington led 52-51 with 10:01 left before consecutive dunks by Nick Johnson sent the Wildcats ahead to stay. Washington remained within three to five points until the final three minutes, unable to re-establish momentum. Arizona, which denied C.J. Wilcox good looks at the basket down the stretch, extended its lead at the end largely through foul shots.
“I can’t fault the effort at all, and I’m proud of our guys and how they hung in there,” said coach Lorenzo Romar. “We were mentally tough in a large portion of the game. But if you make mistakes against that team, they are going to make you pay. We just didn’t execute in the second half the way we needed to and the game got away from us.
“They scored 20 points off of our turnovers. If we had taken better care of the basketball, we might be talking about a victory here. But we just couldn’t finish the deal. This is definitely something we can build on. We can defend and get shots. If we can keep duplicating this kind of effort, then I like what we’re going to do.”
Wilcox led with 20 points, probably the toughest 20 he’s scored all season given Johnson’s defense. Blackwell contributed 12 points and 12 rebounds in his best showing of the season. Kemp added nine points and three rebounds off the bench, all in the first half. His second-half absence was a big reason Arizona ultimately took control inside.
The Huskies hoped to stay in the game with a 3-point barrage, but instead made just 2 of 12, both by Wilcox. They had success attacking Arizona’s half-court defense and getting good shots in transition. Washington also rebounded with Arizona, collecting 34 to 38 for the Wildcats, the NCAA leader in rebound margin. But 15 turnovers negated a lot of the good work.
Johnson led the Wildcats with 24 points and Aaron Gordon posted a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Nigel Williams-Goss, who finished with nine points and four assists, started it off for Washington with a 12-foot jumper and the Huskies led until the 11:59 mark when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson dunked to put the Wildcats ahead 16-15. Washington grew sloppy, committing four of its 10 first-half turnovers (Arizona scored 13 off those miscues) and Arizona raced away to a 27-21 lead.
It appeared the Wildcats would run away, but the Huskies stormed back to lead 35-33 at the half, taking the lead on a Williams-Goss floater in the lane. The most surprising stat of the first 20 minutes: Washington outrebounded Arizona 17-12.
Washington also played some of its best defense, holding Arizona to 39.9 shooting while hitting 55.6 percent.
NOTES: Washington is 2-28 all-time against No. 1-ranked teams. It last beat a No. 1 March 6, 2004, knocking off Stanford . . . Washington is 9-6 and 1-1 in the Pac-12 . . . Wilcox has 15 or more points in a game in 17 consecutive contests, the longest streak by any player in the Romar era . . . The Huskies play their Pac-12 home opener at 8 p.m. Wednesday against the University of Utah. The Huskies host Colorado Sunday.