There was nothing spectacular or overwhelming about Arizona’s 80-70 victory over Oregon State. Rather it felt like a two hour display of the blue-collar, surgeon-like style of basketball that Sean Miller has imprinted in a title contending team.
While there were an abundance of fouls and turnovers, those are things that can be worked on through the course of a season. Intangibles like height, leadership, and a relentless will to win on the other hand are characteristics that a team either has or it doesn’t.
Arizona proved Saturday night in Corvallis that it has all three.
After suffering their first loss of the season two days earlier against Oregon, the Cats struggled out of the gates versus the Beavers. Nick Johnson looked as tense, if not more so, than he had in the past two weeks of his ongoing slump.
There were a number of dropped balls and thrown-away passes and two key guys off the bench, Kevin Parrom and Grant Jerrett, picked up three fouls in the first half, seemingly limiting Arizona’s depth advantage.
Yet despite all that, Arizona went into half time with an eight point lead behind the hot-hands of Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons as well as a substantial advantage on the boards. Although an asterisk could be awarded to the Beavers for not having leading rebounder Eric Morland, they had no answer to the long arms of Jerrett, Brandon Ashley, and Kaleb Tarczewski.
In the second half, the Cats continued to let Oregon State stick around but the lead, just like the final score, felt much bigger than what it was.
Lyons and Hill continued to do more than enough on the offensive end and both finished with 16 points. Jerrett meanwhile had six blocks and looks more and more to be the best defensive post player on this team.
The biggest block however, came from Parrom, Mr. No Easy Baskets himself. After the senior missed a three pointer, Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson got the rebound and passed it up to Ahmad Starks who was standing under the opposite basket.
Then, in what felt like a second’s time, Parrom raced from the midcourt line to the other end of the court to swat away the layup.
At the time, Arizona was on cruise control, as the lead was 14 points with five minutes. Parrom didn’t need to make that block but he did so because in Miller’s system, guys aren’t allowed to give up on a play, no matter how likely the result of it seems from a distance.
In the words of ESPN color commentator Dave Farnham in reference to the block, “what makes your program elite is a play like this.”
There has been nothing pretty about Arizona’s 15-1 record. Matchups that are expected be blowouts wind up a lot closer than they should be and games that are projected as close wins result in the dramatic finishes seen in the Colorado, San Diego State, and Florida victories.
The key is that in all but one of the Cats’ first 16 games, the final result has been a W.
Why? It all lies in the attitude of this team. Winning doesn’t come easy but losing comes a whole lot harder.