There were times during Arizona’s
71-62 win over Washington on Saturday afternoon when McKale Center felt like a morgue in the Arctic. Cold, unfriendly, unwelcoming.
Fans were irritated as the Huskies held the Wildcats at bay in the first half, and they responded with utter silence.
And then, with one soaring rise to the basket, the arena turned into mayhem once more.
With 10 slam dunks on Saturday afternoon, it happened often.
That Kaleb Tarczewski started the Arizona scoring with a dunk — off a pretty assist from T.J. McConnell — should have been a sign of things to come.
“We call it defense to offense, and every team wants to get those transition baskets,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “Those are the shots you get before they’re ready. We had quite a few transition opportunities — and they start with good defense first.”
Three times, Washington turnovers led to Wildcat flushes, the prettiest coming on a Nick Johnson steal-breakaway-360-one-handed dunk that turned McKale into an earthquake zone.
“There’s no better place to play,” Johnson said of his home arena, which just got a boost with a massive new video board, and got another on Saturday with the announcement of another $1.6 million toward the renovation. “When we’re going on a run and getting a few dunks, the place gets crazy. Coach told us to keep getting stops and getting out on the break.”
Johnson’s high-flying aerobics had Washington coach Lorenzo Romar singing his praises.
“Nick Johnson puts the heat on you all game, offensively and defensively,” Romar said. “Always seem to make a timely steal, make a timely bucket. They have a lot of heroes on their team, but none bigger than him.”
The national anthem had a decidedly youthful feel — and sound — on Saturday afternoon, as it was performed by the young Ventana Vista Show Choir. It wasn’t the first time the group has performed at an Arizona sporting event; the group also sang the national anthem at a Wildcats baseball game last April.
Arizona’s hands were anything but idle against the Huskies as they picked up 10 steals. Lightning-quick T.J. McConnell had four steals, a large reason Washington committed 15 turnovers, including 10 in the first half.
Tweet of the game
“Nick Johnson dunks, man.”
What’s in a name?
Washington sports quite a few candidates for the all-name team, including one that’s plenty familiar for basketball fans and dunk-a-holics.
There’s Andrew Andrews and Perris Blackwell, but there’s also the famous Shawn Kemp Jr.
The son of the former Seattle Supersonics Reign Man had a standout first half for the Huskies, scoring nine points on 4-of-4 shooting and drawing big praise from Romar.
“Shawn probably had a breakout game for this season,” Romar said of Kemp, who had his second-highest point total of the year.
Another big number
Arizona’s free-throw shooting has been improving, and it may have kept the Wildcats in the game Saturday. Arizona shot almost 81 percent from the free-throw line, including 7 of 8 from Nick Johnson and 5 of 6 from Brandon Ashley.