TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona’s offense was disjointed, the shots were not falling, the free throws clanging one after another.
Playing without injured forward Brandon Ashley for the first time, the second-ranked Wildcats looked out of sorts on the offensive end, leaving them in jeopardy of their first losing streak of the season.
Good thing they know how to play defense, particularly when the game is on the line. Digging in over the closing minutes, Arizona overcame a rough shooting night to win in their first game without Ashley, grinding out a 67-65 victory over Oregon on Thursday night.
“Our defense down the stretch is what we rely on,” said Nick Johnson, who led Arizona with 18 points. “We have all year.”
The Wildcats needed it against Oregon.
Coming off its first loss of the season, Arizona (22-1, 9-1 Pacific-12 Conference) labored offensively without Ashley, who is out for the season with a foot injury suffered last Saturday in a loss at California.
The Wildcats went 4 for 16 from 3-point range, missed 16 free throws and had a tough time even getting into their set plays.
They turned up the pressure with the game on the line and, as they have for much of the season, found a way to make the big plays when they needed to.
Point guard T.J. McConnell missed seven of his first eight shots before dropping in a 3-pointer with 90 seconds left to give Arizona the lead.
Johnson went 5 of 16 from the field, but kept fighting his way through it and hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 47 seconds.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson provided the Wildcats with a big lift, too, finishing with 14 points, 10 rebounds and all kinds of not-in-the-box score contributions with his hustle in his first start in place of Ashley.
Oregon (15-7, 3-7) held its composure in one of college basketball’s toughest road arenas, keeping the Wildcats at bay well into the second half. Joseph Young and Jason Calliste had 14 points each for the Ducks.