TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona has been an offensive juggernaut in two seasons under coach Tommy Lloyd while reeling off one of the nation’s longest home winning streaks.
On a night when the offensive went into a funk, the Wildcats had to rely on their defense to keep it going.
Azuolas Tubelis had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and No. 5 Arizona rallied from shaky starts to both halves to extend its home winning streak to 28 with a 70-67 victory over Washington on Thursday night.
“We’re winning games playing defense and that’s what you have to do,” Lloyd said.
The Wildcats (14-1, 3-1 Pac-12) entered their first game of the new year ranking in the top five nationally in numerous offensive categories.
They found it much more difficult against Washington’s zone, falling into an early 14-point hole while shooting 36% overall.
Arizona rallied behind its defense, triggering a 15-0 run in the first half and another stretch of 13 straight points after missing its first 10 shots of the second. The Wildcats went up 68-61 with 53 seconds left and held off the Huskies to stretch the nation’s third-longest winning streak.
Arizona’s Omar Ballo had 15 points after dealing with an illness early in the week. Pelle Larsson had 12 points, five rebounds, five assists and played super on-ball defense.
“We’re used to playing physical games,” Larsson said.
They still had a hard time shaking the Huskies.
Washington (9-7, 1-4) overcame a late 4 1/2-minute scoring drought to pull within 70-67 with 18 seconds left and got the ball back after Tubelis missed a free throw. The Huskies struggled to get a good look in the closing seconds and a 3-pointer by Keion Brooks Jr. fell well short.
Brooks and Cole Bajema had 16 points apiece for Washington.
“We showed great fight, great resiliency,” Washington coach Mike Hopkins said. “We held the lead for 28 minutes here, but you miss a foul shot, you miss and open shot, that’s how these games are won.”
The Wildcats grinded out a road win over rival Arizona State in their last game and had all kinds of problems with Washington’s 2-3 zone in their return to McKale Center.
Arizona struggled to find seams in the middle of the zone and labored to get open shots on numerous half-court possessions while falling into a 38-24 hole.
Tubelis was the lone player to have consistent offensive success against Washington’s defense, scoring three times in transition before Washington could set up its defense.
The Lithuanian big man snapped McKale Center fans out of their doldrums and his team with it on a dunk with just over five minutes left. An energized Arizona then reeled off 15 straight points, taking a 39-38 lead on Kerr Kriisa’s corner 3-pointer.
Washington led 42-41 at halftime after hitting 6 of 13 from 3 and went up seven after holding Arizona to two free throws in the opening 8 1/2 minutes of the second half.
“That’s not how I drew it up,” Lloyd said.
The Wildcats rallied, again. Arizona went on a 13-0 run to go up 56-50, but allowed Washington to hang around before grinding out another home win.
“They just have so many weapons,” Hopkins said. “They’re talented at every position.
Washington couldn’t have asked for a much better start at both ends of the floor while building the 14-point lead. The Huskies allowed Arizona back in it with big runs and went 3 for 14 from 3 in the second half to lose their sixth straight to the Wildcats.
Arizona had its worst offensive game of the year, yet still found a way to win its 26th straight home game under coach Tommy Lloyd — longest to start a career in Pac-12 history.
Arizona freshman Kylan Boswell should still be in high school, but moved up a year so he could play Arizona.
The 17-year-old point guard has handled the jump well even when his shots haven’t fallen, playing solid defense while guiding the offense off the bench.
Boswell gave Arizona a big lift against Washington, scoring nine points on 3-of-7 shooting from 3 while finishing with six rebounds and six assists.
“That’s why you put the work in, to hit those shots when the time comes,” said Boswell, who was 3 for 17 from 3 heading into Thursday’s game.
Washington: At Arizona State on Sunday.
Arizona: Hosts Washington State on Saturday.
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