Arizona-Washington State: The Cats Are Back
The Cats had the stroke going from deep so much so that Chase Budinger threw up a shot from at least 30 feet out and tickled the twine like it was a free throw.
But it wasn't just dialing deep that sealed the upset; it was the lockdown defense. The Cougars had to contend with Jordan Hill who had six blocks and who, for the first time this season, managed to stay out of foul trouble and factor significantly in keeping the Cougars from scoring.
Meanwhile, back at the other end, Jerryd Bayless and Nic Wise were getting to the rim and the foul line almost at will, or dishing it to the other to knock down some more threes.
With their inside game floundering, the Cougars were forced to take jump shots, usually with a defender in the vicinity and a hand in their face.
As the deficit continued to grow, Washington State abandoned its slowly paced, methodical offense and tried to speed things up. But this strategy worked just one out of every two or three possessions at best, and the Cats reigned supreme in a rivalry that is one of the Pac-10s most one-sided.
This was by far the Cats’ best game this season, and maybe in several seasons. Arizona allowed only a few offensive rebounds, played a stifling defense, worked cohesively on offense, and found open looks all night while shooting 55% against the alleged No. 1 defense in the country. They also got to the line and nailed all but 3 of their 23 free throws.
The transition to Coach Kevin O'Neill hasn't been easy. The Cats practiced one kind of offense in the off-season, and are now executing an entirely different sort. All this would be difficult enough, but the team has also faced the injury of one of its best players, Bayless.
Still, the Wildcats have managed to persevere after some early Pac-10 setbacks and look to reclaim their primacy near the top of the conference.
It remains to be seen whether these Cats have what it takes to make a deep tournament run. But one thing is for sure, this team is playing efficiently and in unison. If their effort and intensity stay at this level, the Pac-10 could see a familiar face on top once again.
The three early losses will hurt but the team with the toughest schedule in the nation looks ready to answer the call.
Sit tight and get your popcorn ready ‘cause these Cats aren't messing around anymore.
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