No. 3 Arizona hangs on to win 84-81 classic over Oregon
Oregon never even got a shot off.
The Arizona Wildcats missed free throws and turned it over and held off hammering the final nail into the Oregon Ducks’ coffin Saturday night until the very last possession. Then, with 10 seconds on the clock and UO’s Will Richardson bringing it up the floor looking for a game-tying 3-pointer, Christian Koloko switched onto him at the top of the key, danced step for step with the smaller, nimbler Richardson, and then forced him down to the left block only to swat away a desperation heave at the buzzer.
Oregon was looking to become the first team in NCAA men’s basketball history to win three road games against AP top-five teams in a single season. It beat UCLA. Then it beat USC. It wouldn’t beat Arizona. Not this time. No, no. The Wildcats survived, 84-81, to move to 24-2 on the season and take a commanding three-game lead in the conference standings with only five games left.
Arizona couldn’t miss early, playing in front of a juiced crowd at McKale Center with ESPN’s premier crew in the building. But it was self-inflicted mistakes that kept the Ducks not just in the game but in the lead for prolonged stretches.
The Wildcats shot 71% from the field in the first half but entered the break trailing by two points, 47-45.
It was nine turnovers. It was seven Oregon steals directly leading to 13 points. It was getting beat off the dribble. It was missing four of nine from the charity stripe.
Bennedict Mathurin and Azuolas Tubelis combined for 20 first-half points on 8-of-10 shooting, keeping the Cats right there neck-and-neck with the Ducks. Arizona’s singular talent was on full display, talent that will have it in any game against any team on any night. But you can’t beat yourself.
In the second half, the turnovers were fewer and further between while the defensive end of the floor heated up. After getting 1.3 points a possession in the first half, Oregon was held under a point per in the second. Oregon only made three of its 13 3-point attempts after the break and they were the exact opposite of the looks the pros were hoisting in Cleveland at All-Star Saturday night; Arizona contested everything.
The Wildcats weren’t nearly as effective over the game’s final 20 minutes, but they made huge plays when necessary. Mathurin had 13 to finish with a game-high 24 points. With 1:26 to play and the score knotted at 76, Kerr Kriisa drilled a straight-away 3 from way beyond the line to blow the rough off the building and give the Cats the lead for good.
Thirty seconds later, Kriisa had his pocket picked by Oregon’s Jacob Young, who raced to the other end and layed it up and in to bring the Ducks within a point—the perfect summation of the evening.
Mathurin then missed one of two from the charity stripe, followed by a split from Tubelis at the free throw line on the Wildcats’ next trip. A pair of foul shots from Pelle Larsson put the Wildcats up five with 19 seconds to go before a Quincy Guerrier near-logo triple brought Oregon back to within just two points.
UA’s Dalen Terry then missed his own free throw, leaving the door open with 10 seconds to play.
And it was then that Koloko slammed the door shut and locked it. Fitting, too. The big man in the middle of one of the best defenses in the country—eighth in KenPom—is one of the most improved players in all of basketball and perhaps the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Koloko entered the evening as the Pac-12 leader in blocked shots, PER, defensive win shares, and box plus/minus.
Richardson, with Oregon out of timeouts, tried to set up Koloko one direction to come back the other, but Koloko slid his feet well. Richardson looked for a second like he’d fake a shot, but Koloko held his ground. When Richardson drove left into the lane, Koloko gave the officials zero reason to put air in the whistle.
No foul. No harm. No shot. No chance.
Richardson finished with 22 points for the Ducks. But one of the league’s best 3-point shooters was just 2-for-6 from distance. Instead, it was Guerrier who provided the shooting from deep, as he put up 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting from 3. As a team, Oregon hit nine of its 26 attempts from deep.
The Ducks shot 46% from the field, won the rebounding battle, forced more turnovers than they gave away, and outscored Arizona in the paint. The Ducks played well. With Oregon’s NCAA Tournament chances hanging in the balance after a pair of unsightly losses in the last week to Cal and Arizona State, it needed a résumé boosting kind of win.
Arizona just made the play at the end to hold off another Oregon upset. Oregon can’t cash in almosts, but head coach Dana Altman will no doubt be more pleased with Saturday’s performance than last Thursday’s or last Saturday’s.
And the Ducks still have a few more chances. Oregon (17-10, 10-6 Pac-12) will head home to host No. 13 UCLA on Thursday and No. 17 USC next Saturday. Tip-off against the Bruins is set for 6:30 p.m. PT.
The third-ranked Wildcats (24-2, 14-1 Pac-12) will travel to Salt Lake City next Thursday to kick off a three-game road trip against Utah. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. PT.