TUCSON, Ariz. — Washington was able to hold its own against No. 1 Arizona in the first half, hustling past the Wildcats for offensive rebounds and scoring at the rim.
Once Arizona turned up the defensive pressure, the Huskies had no chance of keeping up.
Washington went cold down the stretch after keeping up with Arizona well into the second half, missing all seven of its 3-point attempts in the second half of a 71-62 loss Saturday.
“When they took the lead, I feel that we got away from the things we were trying to do defensively and offensively,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We had to hit home runs every time we took possession of the ball and I don’t think we accomplished that.”
Washington (9-6, 1-1 Pac-12) outrebounded Arizona (15-0, 2-0) in the first half and hit 15 of 27 shots against one of the nation’s best defenses.
The Huskies struggled against Arizona’s pressure in the second half, though, hitting 10 of 33 shots while being outrebounded by nine.
C.J. Wilcox led Washington with 20 points. Perris Blackwell had 12 points and 12 rebounds and knocked around Kaleb Tarczewski inside, helping to hold Arizona’s center to seven points on 2-of-10 shooting.
“When you get down a couple of points, a lot of guys try to step up and be the hero and start rushing things,” Wilcox said. “We needed to stick to the game plan and execute all the way through.”
Arizona did and is now off to its best start since the 1931-32 team opened with a school-record 16 straight wins.
It wasn’t easy.
One of the best rebounding teams in the country, Arizona had a hard time keeping the Huskies off the glass or from scoring inside in the first half.
The Wildcats pulled away by turning up the defensive pressure in the second half, particularly on the perimeter, stretching the lead in the final 3 minutes.
Nick Johnson scored 24 points and Aaron Gordon added 18 points and 11 rebounds for Arizona.
T.J. McConnell overcame a poor-shooting game with six assists, five rebounds and four steals while teaming with Johnson to hound the Huskies at the top of Arizona’s defense.
Arizona had 10 dunks among its 24 field goals and hit 7 of 8 free throws in the final 2 minutes.
“That’s what good teams do, nettle through adversity,” said Johnson, who hit all six of his free throws in the closing minutes. “They are a good team. Their record may not sure it, but they are good. We knew that going into the game. We made our run and made our shots when it counted.”
Washington had a tough non-conference schedule and opened Pac-12 play with an impressive road win, racing past Arizona State early for a 76-65 victory.
The Huskies faced a much stiffer challenge against Arizona.
The Wildcats have been No. 1 for a month and have one of the nation’s best defenses behind a group of versatile, athletic players.
Arizona was at its defensive best in its conference opener Thursday, setting McKale Center records by holding Washington State to 25 points, nine field goals and 20 percent shooting.
The Huskies were able to keep up with the Wildcats in the first half, scoring inside and outrebounding them to lead 35-33.
“We missed a couple easy shots that we normally convert and we need to convert in the future,” Miller said.
Washington took a quick six-point lead in the second half, but Shawn Kemp Jr. fouled out with 10:37 left, leaving their Huskies with one of the few players who could match up with Arizona’s size.
The Wildcats also turned up the defensive pressure, holding the Huskies to one field goal in a 10-minute span.
Washington point guard Nigel Williams-Goss had a hard time shaking Arizona’s two best perimeter defenders, hitting 4 of 12 shots for nine points while committing three turnovers.
“It’s tough going against their defense with our small lineup, but we just needed to work,” Wilcox said. “In the second half, they were relentless and that’s one of the main reasons why they are No. 1 in the country.”