CORVALLIS, Ore. — The Arizona Wildcats have proven themselves against hostile road crowds all season, by feeding off the energy that opposing fans created.
That trick didn’t work on Wednesday.
In Arizona’s 74-69 win at Oregon State, only about 7,000 people showed up at Gill Coliseum, staying relatively quiet until the Beavers alerted them in a close second half that they might actually win the game.
The crowd appeared to be the smallest UA has played before all season. Arizona had faced crowds of just over 7,000 at Stanford and more than 8,000 at USC, but has played its best on the road in hostile environments.
The resulting lack of energy may have hurt Arizona, which had also already clinched the Pac-12 regular-season title and is mostly playing to ensure a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed.
“I think that played a part of it,” Gabe York said. “Usually, every road game is a sellout when we come in there. It was sort of a shock: ‘Oh, it’s not sold out.’ ”
However, UA coach Sean Miller said he thought the Wildcats were “ready to play,” pointing to Arizona’s 7-0 start.
In the end, UA guard Nick Johnson provided enough help by scoring 25 points on 8-for-18 shooting. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 13 points while York and Kaleb Tarczewski each had 12.
The Wildcats held OSU to 40 percent shooting and forced eight turnovers but shot only 41 percent themselves in the first half. OSU out-rebounded UA 20-18 although the Wildcats had seven offensive boards to OSU’s six in the first 20 minutes..
It helped UA that OSU standout Roberto Nelson, who had 24 points to lead the Beavers, missed 2 of 3 free throws after he was fouled beyond the arc and missed several key shots in the final minutes.
“You asked how we still won it,” Miller said, referring to UA’s lack of rebounding. “The last eight minutes we regained who we are” defensively.
The win moved Arizona to 28-2 overall and 15-2 in the Pac-12, heading into its regular-season finale on Saturday against Oregon.
The Beavers dropped to 15-14 overall and 7-10 in the Pac-12.
The Wildcats took leads of up to nine points in the first half but only led 36-33 at halftime and the game stayed within a basket for much of the second half, when the Gill Coliseum fans began to generate noise.
Arizona took a 64-62 lead with 5:41 left on a three-pointer from York but Eric Moreland quickly tied it up inside entering the final five minutes.
In the first half, Johnson scored 14 points to lead Arizona.
Arizona took an early 7-0 lead and went ahead 31-22 late in the first half, but the Beavers cut it closer as halftime approached. OSU pulled within 31-29 after scoring seven straight points, the last a pair of free throws from Nelson, who led the Beavers in the half with 13 points.
Arizona had reached a 31-22 lead when York hit a three-pointer and Johnson made an alley-oop dunk off a pass from T.J. McConnell with four minutes left.