It was the best of times, followed by the worst of times for the Arizona basketball last Thursday night—though the Wildcats ultimately weathered a storm of their own creation in McKale Center.
The Wildcats used an explosive first half and suffocating defense to thwart the Colorado Buffaloes in the team’s Pac-12 opener, 64-56, overcoming a lackluster second half.
Freshman guard Brandon Williams led all scorers for the home side with 14 points, while dishing out 6 assists in 33 minutes of action. His passing helped the Wildcats jump out to a 39-25 lead at the half, scoring 9 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the opening 20 minutes, with three assists to his name.The biggest jolt the Wildcats received came from freshman Devonaire Doutrive, who scored a season-high 8 points, on 3-of-5 shooting.
Coach Sean Miller praised the freshman for his energy, helping the Wildcats overcome a dismal second half performance to beat the Buffaloes.
“As we watched [Doutrive] grow and practice really from the onset, I thought there could be a period of time where he could become important to our team because his style is so much different than everybody else,” Miller said. “He’s an offensive rebounder, he’s a tremendous athlete, he had a couple turnovers which is expected playing that many minutes as a young player.”
Miller’s squad was forced to start four guards, in Williams, Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith and Emmanuel Akot, after guard Justin Coleman dislocated his shoulder in practice last Monday.
Williams and Randolph did their part to invigorate the offense, with the latter adding 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting.
Miller had a measured view of his team’s performance against Colorado, praising the team’s first 20 minutes, while deeming the squad’s 25-point, 9-for-27 offensive output in the latter half a disappointment.
“It’s hard to feel great about everything just because the last 16 minutes we did not play well,” Miller said, “And some of that had to do with Colorado certainly but I’m glad that we played as well as we did in the first half to give us the lead.”
Only two days later, the Wildcats and Utah Utes engaged in an instant classic at McKale Center during an afternoon game.
The Wildcats (11-4, 2-0), traded blows with the visiting Utes for much of the day, with the two sides squared at 72 after 40 minutes of regulation.
The Utes (7-7, 1-1), matched Arizona shot-for-shot for most of the game thanks to a strong showing by senior guard Sedrick Barefield, who scored a game-high 26 points.
The visiting side’s luck faded once Barefield fouled out late in the game’s second half, allowing the Wildcats to escape with an 84-81 victory, ensuring a sweep of the Rocky Mountain schools during the first week of conference play.
Miller praised his player’s effort in a back-and-forth affair, calling the contest one of the most riveting spectacles he’s seen in his decade in Tucson.
“I really think from the opening tip throughout the game, it was certainly a great college basketball game,” he said.
Miller attributed much of his side’s success down the stretch to Barefield’s early departure, saying the tide of the day swung when he left the court for the final time.
“Fouling him out really changed the game down the stretch,” Miller said. “And then in overtime, playing without him is a different task versus playing with him.”
The Wildcats’ offense was sparked by junior forward Chase Jeter, who scored 21 points and pulled own a game-high 13 rebounds, racking up his fourth double-double of the year.
Randolph also scored 21 points in the win, joining Williams and Smith in double figures for Arizona.
Jeter, who transferred to Arizona from Duke University in 2017, gushed about the packed house inside McKale Center Saturday, calling it a one-of-a-kind game day atmosphere.
“Those are the type of games that we all sign up for when we come to Arizona, so to be able to have that toughness and the will and fight from everybody,” Jeter said. “To close that game out in overtime was big for us, so I think that’s the best thing that any player could ask for, on this squad especially.”
The Wildcats head to the Bay Area this week, with road games against Stanford and California on Wednesday and Saturday.
basketball splits Rocky Mountain road trip
The Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball team split its games against Colorado and Utah last week to improve to 12-2 for the season.
The Wildcats opened their week with a 69-67 win over Colorado in Boulder, thanks to a game-high 32 points from redshirt sophomore guard Aari McDonald.
McDonald, who transferred to Arizona from the University of Washington in 2017, made 12 of her 23 field goals against the Buffaloes, including 2-of-9 three-point attempts.
Teammates Lucia Alonso and Sam Thomas also finished in double figures in the win over Colorado, with Lucia scoring 12 points, while Thomas added 11.
The team’s luck ran out in Salt Lake City on Sunday, however, with the Utes defeating Adia Barnes’ squad, 80-64.
McDonald once again led the Wildcats in scoring on Sunday, with 34 points on 13-of-30 shooting, while pulling down a game-high 11 rebounds for the Wildcats.
Teammates Thomas and Dominique McBryde were the other Wildcat starters to finish in double digits on Sunday, with each scoring 10 points in the loss.
The Wildcats host the Bay Area schools this week, with a game against California at 7 p.m. Friday and another at noon Sunday against Stanford.