Aaron Gordon says the Arizona Wildcats only focus on one possession at a time.
Even for the ever-focused freshman, that was possible for, oh, only about 12 minutes or so in Arizona’s record-setting 60-25 win over Washington State.
Then all Gordon, and the McKale Center sellout crowd of 14,545, could see was a defensive avalanche. Possession after possession after possession, the Cougars threw up misguided shots that had no chance, shots that were blocked and shots that were closely guarded.
“Maybe with seven minutes left (in the first half), I looked up and said, ‘Hey, they haven’t scored a field goal yet,’ ” Gordon said.
Yeah. WSU actually missed their first 16 field goals, and went on to set new McKale Center lows for points scored, field goals made (nine) and field-goal shooting percentage (20.0).
The Cougars went a full 13:18 before scoring a field goal, a layup from guard Royce Woolridge, and at that point Arizona led 21-5.
The statistics were so eye-popping that UA coach Sean Miller both expressed amazement at the Wildcats defense, and empathy for WSU coach Ken Bone.
The Cougars did have an excuse, at least. They were without leading scorer DaVonté Lacy, who had an emergency appendectomy on Saturday, and forward Dexter Kernich-Drew, who suffered a concussion this week.
“I think Ken Bone was in a difficult situation tonight,” Miller said. “Take a leading scorer out and it can feel different, especially on the road. They certainly didn’t take their best shot. I know they are a better offensive team than that.
“Having said that, we have to play the game. Our defensive effort was outstanding.”
Bone wouldn’t argue with that.
“Arizona jumped on us early and it never really ended,” Bone said, praising UA’s defensive execution.
While Miller said the defense wasn’t as good as the numbers may have indicated, the fact is that the Wildcats kept the pressure on no matter how easy the game was getting.
“We wanted to start this Pac-12 season off right,” guard Nick Johnson said. “We wanted to prove we’re the No. 1 team and we wanted to keep it that way.”
The win moved top-ranked Arizona to 14-0 and 1-0 in the Pac-12 while WSU dropped to 7-6 and 0-1.
But while the margin of victory was 35 points, the Wildcats still had their struggles on the other side of the ball. WSU’s matchup zone defense helped throw the Wildcats off, to where they shot just 34.8 percent in the first half and took only a 28-7 halftime lead.
Those 35 combined first-half points, in fact, set another McKale record for the lowest output for two teams, breaking the previous record of 37 set when Arizona and Oregon played on Feb. 21, 1985.
For some perspective on the other records: WSU’s 25 points smashed the old McKale futility mark of 37 set by NAU on Dec. 6, 1989. Their nine field goals was also below the old McKale mark of 13 that was set twice, the last time by Bethune-Cookman on Nov. 23, 2010.
What’s more, WSU’s field-goal percentage of 20.0 was also a record McKale low, breaking the mark of 20.3 set by NAU on Dec. 6, 1989.
And, in their own history, the Cougars’ 25 points was their fewest points ever since they scored 25 at Idaho on Jan. 15, 1938.
The two teams also combined to break the McKale Center low for combined field goals made of 36, when Arizona and San Diego State each had just 18 on Dec. 23, 1982. Arizona hit 20 of 45 field goal attempts and WSU was 9 for 45.
The scoring was so low that only one player, Kaleb Tarczewski, scored in double figures. Tarczewski had 11 points in 22 minutes in his first game back since spraining his right ankle on Dec. 14 at Michigan.
After Arizona took an 28-7 into the locker room, the early portion of the second half was more of the same. The Wildcats led 32-9 with 15:30 left, when the Cougars were just 1 for 7 from the field at that point after halftime.
The Cougars didn’t even break double digits until 12:21 remained in the game, when reserve guard Will DiIorio hit WSU’s first three-pointer in 10 attempts.
Later in the second half, WSU was held to a shot-clock violation, when UA led 45-14 with 6:52 left.
Shortly afterward, Miller inserted walk-ons Eric Conklin, Drew Mellon and Jacob Hazzard. He did not use two scholarship players, however: forward Zach Peters and guard Elliott Pitts.
Miller said after the game he wasn’t playing Peters for health reasons and that he simply didn’t play Pitts.
In the first half, Washington State also set new McKale Center single-half records by making just two field goals and scoring just seven points.
The previous McKale record for points allowed in a half was 11, and the record for field goals made in a half was four, both last set by ASU on Feb. 13, 1991.
The Wildcats entered the game with the No. 12 ranking in field-goal percentage allowed, just 37.2, and stifled the Cougars into taking several desperation shots.
Things were so bleak for WSU that when D.J. Shelton made the Cougars’ second field goal of the game, also on a layup, a few sarcastic cheers of panic for the Wildcats erupted. Arizona still led 23-7 at that point and didn’t give up another field goal for the rest of the half.
“They had two field goals in the first half,” Gordon said. “That’s probably the most impressive thing I felt.”