TUCSON, Arizona — Facing Washington’s zone defense is tough anytime. Coming out of an extended break, it can be a nightmare.
No. 9 Arizona was, for the most part, able solve the Huskies’ zone, for another lopsided win — this time 95-79 over the Huskies.
“Playing against them is a pain,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “Obviously, they haven’t gotten off to a great start this year, but they’re a better team than their record indicates. That zone is a pain.”
The Wildcats (12-1, 2-0 Pac-12) moved the ball well offensively in their first game since a 16-day holiday break, shooting 55% and finishing with 28 assists on 33 made shots.
Ben Mathurin scored 27 points, Christian Koloko added 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Kerr Kriisa finished with 21 points to give Arizona three 20-point scorers in a game for the first time since 2009. The Wildcats also went 12 for 25 from 3 for their best start since opening the 2015-16 season 13-1.
Beyond that, Arizona was shaky handling the ball. The Wildcats had 21 turnovers that Washington converted into 25 points, allowing the Huskies to hang around despite struggling to hit shots.
“We know Washington is a team that causes a lot of turnovers,” said Koloko, who blocked four shots but also had four turnovers. “We just have to do a better job of being poised.”
Washington (5-6, 0-1) had played two games since Nov. 27 because of COVID-19 issues before Monday, including its own pause that led to the postponement of a Dec. 2 game at Arizona.
Terrell Brown Jr. had a nice night against his former team, scoring 28 points in the arena where he played last season. Emmitt Matthews Jr. added 16 points, but the rest of the Huskies had a hard time finding the mark, finishing 7 for 24 from the 3-point arc.
The Huskies still managed to cut the lead to five with 7 1/2 minutes left before the Wildcats pulled away.
“They’re so good offensively, they get a couple plays here and a couple plays there, you’re tapping the mat early like it’s a UFC fight,” Washington coach Mike Hopkins said. “We stayed in it, we stayed positive, had good energy.”
Arizona hadn’t played since its first loss of the season, 77-73 at No. 18 Tennessee on Dec. 18 after two games were postponed due to COVID-19 issues with other teams.
The time off didn’t seem to bother the shooting form of the nation’s top-scoring team. Arizona had a good offensive flow going early, getting out in transition and working the ball around Washington’s zone for open looks. The Wildcats used a 13-0 run to go up 24-10 and kept making shots, including Mathurin’s highlight-reel windmill dunk in transition.
Arizona shot 17 of 28 and made eight 3-pointers in the first half.
The one shaky area: turnovers. The Wildcats had 17 in the loss to Tennessee, in large part because of the Vols’ relentless pressure.
The 10 first-half turnovers against Washington were mostly self-inflicted, many on passes into congested areas. The Huskies scored 17 points off turnovers to stay within 49-41 at halftime.
Arizona continued to throw careless, easily picked-off passes and didn’t shoot quite as well in the second half, allowing Washington to linger. Matthews hit a corner 3-pointer off an offensive rebound to pull the Huskies within 72-65, but that was the closest they’d get.
Koloko dunked over Matthews for a three-point play on an alley-oop from Mathurin, then Mathurin made it 85-72 with a 3-pointer from the wing with 4 1/2 minutes left.
Washington created some problems for the Wildcats with quick hands on defense, but had another shy shooting performance in a season that’s been filled with them.
Arizona was superb at working the ball around to its shooters again. The Wildcats just need to stop giving the ball to the other team.
Brown was a key part of Arizona’s team a year ago before opting to return to his home state of Washington.
The 6-foot-3 grad transfer seemed to feel right at home at his old home, hitting 10 of 22 shots while finishing with eight rebounds and six assists.
“He took a lot of pride in the year he was here, a lot of friends and a lot of memories,” Hopkins said. “He came home to play for us, which was great, and him having a chance to come back, he was as good and as competitive as we know how he is.”
Washington: Plays at Utah on Thursday.
Arizona: At rival Arizona State on Saturday.