Greg Hansen: Sweep relief: Trip puts UA back on track

2013-02-03T00:00:00Z 2013-02-03T00:12:03Z Greg Hansen: Sweep relief: Trip puts UA back on trackGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PULLMAN, Wash.

Arizona swept five of six trips to Washington and WSU from 1998 to 2003, winning 11 of 12. That's not likely to be matched again, ever, as long as you shall live.

Just winning one game on the parquet floor in Pullman, or one in Seattle, comes to symbolize a good weekend. If you split in field-and-stream territory, you get about 24 hours of serenity before the basketball ulcers kick in again.

And if a sweep in Washington jumps you into a first-place tie, as it did when No. 8 Arizona thumped the Cougars 79-65 Saturday night, it pretty much eliminates the internal scars from an unsightly loss to UCLA, a game that now seems so long ago.

"We're in the driver's seat now, with Oregon," said UA senior Solomon Hill. "You gotta make up for that home loss to UCLA, and that's what we did tonight."

Or something like that.

UA coach Sean Miller had a lot of angst Saturday, which is how it goes when your pine-timers are playing extra minutes because everyone seemed to be in foul trouble. And because Nick Johnson had a rare ineffective night, decked by a stomach virus, and because Kevin Parrom got kicked out for elbowing a guy, and because Hill went from his best half as a college player to maybe his worst.

"Tonight was more a function of survival," said Miller.

I lost count, but I think four Wildcats ended up playing a spell at point guard because Mark Lyons was in foul trouble from the time he stepped off the bus. But when you are 19-2, as Arizona is, things fall your way so often that it was Lyons who put the game away with a three-pointer, 69-56, forgetting about foul trouble and everything else inherent on this trip.

Somehow Lyons scored 20 points, outscoring Hill, who had 18 at the half and didn't score again. That's depth, huh?

In spite of all of those goof-ups, about the only mystery Saturday was whether it would be too foggy at the Pullman airport for Arizona's late-night charter to take off.

"It's so hard to win back-to-back games in our conference," said Miller. "If realistically you're going to compete for a conference championship, you have to get a sweep or maybe more."

Miller didn't leave for the airport with nothing but happy thoughts. He was openly critical of Parrom, who was ejected for smacking WSU's DeVonté Lacy in a first-half scrum.

"He'll be disciplined at the highest level possible at our university," the coach said. "He embarrassed himself, his university, his basketball program and his family."

Arizona scored more points against the Cougars (79) than any team had this season. It did so because coach Ken Bone's defense was spread thin, trying to defend Arizona's interior game and simultaneously played a bit loose on the perimeter.

How loose? Hill made six three-pointers in the first half, a career high. It was ridiculous. He made just four three-pointers his entire freshman season.

In the second half, the Cougars adjusted, swarmed Hill, but left the interior more open, allowing freshman Kaleb Tarczewski to have his third consecutive 10-point game. Pick your poison, right?

"What happened tonight," said Bone, "was that a very good team exposed us."

WSU had allowed 59 points per game this year. Slowing the tempo, taking an early lead and killing the clock, was about Wazzu's only chance. But with Hill almost automatic from 20 feet, Arizona led 26-12 and poof went WSU's strategy.

Hill's sixth and final three-pointer came at the halftime buzzer, a 70-foot banker that looked true from the moment it left his hands. He didn't call it, but he said he felt it.

"When you're in the zone," he said, "the basket looks a lot wider than it is. I felt it, obviously."

Miller was effusive in his praise of Hill, who didn't force his offensive game in the second half, but rather became a facilitator and defensive player.

"He's one of the great players in college basketball," said Miller. "We really go as he goes."

The talent-challenged Cougars hoped to get some sixth-man help from the ZZU CRU, the equivalent of Arizona's Zona Zoo, by declaring a white-out. Alas, only 6,002 fans attended, leaving the arena half-empty, with as many red seats as white shirts.

It was more like a Polka-Dot Out than anything else. The crowd started to splinter with 10 minutes remaining; the Cougars never did get closer than 10 down the stretch.

Arizona and Oregon both have five home games in the nine-game second half of the Pac-12. Cal, a sudden contender at 5-4, also has five home games, but it must play in Tucson. Arizona does not play in Berkeley this year.

This becomes just the fourth team in modern UA history to open 19-2. The Wildcats were 19-2 in 1988, 1993 and 2003. You can't draw a solid conclusion from a 19-2 start because the '88 team reached the Final Four and the '93 team lost in a first-round NCAA flameout to Santa Clara.

What Saturday's sweep accomplished was to even the books, put Arizona back into first place and let the Wildcats know that on a night so many things went wrong, they still won by 14, the only team to beat WSU by double figures at Friel Court, a place Gonzaga won a 71-69 thriller.

"This trip and this game tonight taught us that you've got to be ready for anything, any type of adversity," said Hill. "And tonight we were ready."

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