The Arizona Wildcats earned their 18th consecutive win of the season on Thursday night, and for the hometown fans at McKale Center, the 91-68 blowout over the rival Arizona State Sun Devils may have just been the sweetest victory yet.
With the win, the Wildcats are one of three teams in the nation to remain undefeated, and they become the first PAC-12 team since the 2003-04 Stanford Cardinals to start a season with an 18-game win streak.
Seven Wildcats scored double digits including Nick Johnson, who led the way with 17 points on 6-9 shooting and nine points from behind the arc on five attempts.
Out of the gates, Arizona made its motive clear: eliminate the defensive threat of ASU’s Jordan Bachynski. Then, score at will.
After forcing two quick fouls on the 7’2” center, the Wildcats’ took advantage of his absence in the paint, with Aaron Gordon putting in five points to give the Cats an early 10-5 lead. It was a lead that would only widen as the minutes ticked on.
Gabe York knocked in a three-pointer. Nick Johnson nailed a 12-footer. Kaleb Tarczewski finessed in a jump hook. Just as he did so effectively against USC, T.J. McConnell hit from behind the arc. Tarczewski dunked.
All that before Arizona State scored again.
And just like that, the Sun Devils looked up at a scoreboard reading 26-8.
ASU guard Jahii Carson, who scored a game-high 20 points, gave the Sun Devils a glimpse of hope when he led an 11-4 surge in the last four minutes of the half to reduce the Wildcats’ lead to 14 to make it a 42-28 first half finish.
The Cats finished the first half shooting 50 percent from the field, and they out-rebounded the Sun Devils 25-19.
But for a team as disciplined as the Wildcats, there was no letting up. They didn’t want to let the game get any closer in the final 20 minutes. And they wouldn’t.
Johnson opened up the half by hitting a jumper and McConnell finished near the basket to build on the lead. Brandon Ashley and Gordon added four points from close range before McConnell hit another jumper, and soon the Cats were up 23 points, their second largest lead of the game.
The Wildcats’ defense was arguably the deciding factor in the contest, however. Using their size advantage as they've done so well all season, the Cats forced 16 turnovers, came up with four steals, and managed seven blocked shots for the night.
Arizona kept a comfortable 20-plus-point lead for 15 minutes of the half en route to the 91-68 finish.
Complementing Johnson’s 17 points were Tarczewski with 12, McConnell with 10, Gordon with 16, Ashley with 10, York with 10, and Richard Hollis-Jefferson with 11.
Tarczewski, who also pulled down eight boards and had three blocked shots, was named player of the game.
The Wildcats will look to remain perfect when they take on Colorado on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m.