The AP No. 18 Arizona Wildcats took care of business in the regular season finale against Pac-12 in-state rival Arizona State, emerging victorious by a score of 73-58 in Tucson's McKale Center.
An extremely balanced scoring effort was led by Nick Johnson, who poured in 17 points. He was also a key contributor defensively along with Solomon Hill, who put up 12 points, matched Johnson's three steals and dished out a game-high five assists.
Things got a little heated after halftime, though, when the Wildcats were whistled for seven fouls in the first three minutes. That put the Sun Devils in an ideal situation to attack the basket, but they couldn't capitalize on the momentum or come close to pulling the upset.
Senior Carrick Felix heated up in the second half for Arizona State, leading all scorers with 22 points. First-year point guard Jahii Carson contributed 15 points but had zero assists and four of the team’s eight turnovers in a costly, sloppy first half.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, gave it away just three times in the first 20 minutes.
Whether it was due to the rivalry game or simply a change in strategy, Sean Miller deployed a rare full-court press. It worked in Arizona's favor and led to quick buckets and an ultimately insurmountable 40-25 halftime advantage.
Arizona State started the second half on a 15-8 run but never truly threatened. Johnson went on a 7-0 run on his own in a 1:50 span, and the lead only ballooned from there.
Two consecutive road losses to USC and UCLA preceded this contest for the hosting Wildcats, who lost out on their chance to win the conference title due to those defeats.
After those disappointments, this game was certainly a welcome return to form for Miller's squad. Even though the Wildcats didn't quite put together 40 full minutes, this was a big win ahead of the conference tournament—where they will enter as the No. 4 seed.
Tracy McDannald @TracyGOAZCATS
All 8 #ArizonaWildcats who played in the first half scored, led by Nick Johnson's 8 pts2013-3-9 22:37:27
McDannald's colleague Evyn Murray was particularly impressed with the show Arizona put on for the home crowd:
Zack Rosenblatt @ZackBlatt
Other than Lyons, for the most part everyone is playing better than they have in weeks. Or, at least, with more energy.2013-3-9 22:25:04
Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star noted how long it has been since Arizona's Johnson played this well. Johnson scored in double figure for just the third time in 10 games.
Bruce Pascoe @BrucePascoe
This is Nick Johnson's best game at least since the #arizonawildcats won at Washington on Jan. 31.2013-3-9 23:22:07