Successful teams need to know how to win close games on the road in March, and No. 3 Arizona got some good practice on Wednesday night.
Sean Miller's squad was pushed to the edge against unranked Oregon State in Corvallis, but the Wildcats were able to lean on their stifling defense down to stretch to pull out a 74-69 victory.
He talked about the victory after the game:
Very proud of how our team battled tonight at Oregon State in a very tough environment. Thanks to the fans that travelled to the game!— Sean Miller (@UACoachMiller) March 6, 2014
For a while, the combination of Roberto Nelson's outside shooting and the Beavers' big, physical frontcourt of Eric Moreland, Angus Brandt and Devon Collier was giving the Wildcats serious problems, and a free throw by Nelson with 6:08 remaining put OSU in front, 62-61.
But then Arizona's top-ranked adjusted defense in the country began to resemble itself again.
The Beavers' next eight possessions resulted in two points, as they went 1-of-5 from the field and committed three turnovers, allowing the Wildcats to go on a 10-2 run and build a seven-point lead with just under 30 seconds remaining.
The Beavers shot themselves in the foot, hitting just 16 of 29 free throws (55.2 percent) and turning the ball over 17 times, but in the end, this was about Arizona being too talented and too stingy on the defensive side of the ball.
Of course, the 'Cats can score the ball a little bit, too.
They once again struggled from the free-throw line (19-of-30 from the charity stripe), but Nick Johnson continued to build his Pac-12 Player of the Year campaign with 25 points and four assists, while Gabe York, whose inclusion into the starting lineup has helped the 'Cats get over the loss of Brandon Ashley, knocked down four three-pointers on his way to 12 points.
T.J. McConnell chipped in eight assists, and CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein sang the praises of the point guard afterward:
T.J. McConnell now has 34 assists and just 4 turnovers in Arizona's last five games. Winning player. The gas in the Wildcats' engine.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 6, 2014
Freshman phenom Aaron Gordon struggled with just eight points and two rebounds as he dealt with foul trouble for much of the game, but Kaleb Tarczewski picked up the slack on the interior with 12 and nine.
Overall, it wasn't pretty for the Wildcats, who had won their previous three contests against potential NCAA tourney teams by a combined 68 points.
But in March, it can't always be.