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February 21, 2013
Among the bad habits of late for No. 12-ranked Arizona has been its tendency to let up with a second-half lead and fall into long scoring lulls. It led head coach Sean Miller to label his group a "first-half team," according to senior Solomon Hill.
Both of those problems were solved, if only for one night, Wednesday at McKale Center.
A 60.9 percent second-half shooting effort propelled the Wildcats to their largest lead in more than three weeks and a 70-52 win over Washington in a late-night Pac-12 Conference affair.
"Once we got through the first eight to 10 minutes of the game, that's the best we had played in some time," Miller said.
Hill, who scored a game-high 19 points, said the team got back to having "fun."
"We brought it today," added Hill, who made 6 of 12 shots.
"We wanted to take our defensive intensity from previous games and continue it into tonight, and I think we did that. It was a fun game."
Leading by eight after a strong close to the first half, Arizona (22-4, 10-4 Pac-12) erupted for 11 points within the first 4:09 after scoring just eight in the initial 10 minutes of the first half. After going scoreless in the opening half, Nick Johnson was ignited by a two-handed dunk set up by a Mark Lyons no-look bounce pass to the trailing sophomore. Again in transition, the two then hooked up for a Johnson layup.
Leading 42-29, Johnson then added a 3-pointer and another transition layup to extend the lead to 20 with 13:42 remaining. It was the Wildcats' first 20-point lead since Jan. 26 against USC.
"Although (Washington) only turned it over nine times, our key steals and shot blocks led to a break out and that's really what changed the game the second half defensively," Miller said. "Then, that leads to offense. We had five players in double figures. We were able to do that in large part because defense leads to transition opportunities."
Lyons scored 14 points for the Wildcats, who also received 12 from Johnson and 10 apiece from Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley. Also for the first time in six games, Johnson finished in double-digit points.
As a team, the 'Cats rebounded from a 10-of-28 shooting performance in the first half to finish at 47.1 percent for the game.
Washington (14-13, 6-8 Pac-12) pulled within 14 on a pair of occasions - the last on Abdul Gaddy's free throws with 4:20 to play - but would get no closer.
UA's ability to close the door on the Huskies was a 180-degree turn from the 13-point lead it squandered in the second half Sunday at Utah.
"It was a great feeling to have that lead," Hill said. "It was a great feeling to know that a team isn't pressing to come back, knocking down free throws to press us."
C.J. Wilcox finished with 15 points and Gaddy chipped in 12 to pace the Huskies, who shot just 30.8 percent. It was the first time in six games UA has limited a team to a worse second-half shooting percentage (26.5 percent) than a first-half mark (35.5 percent).
With a restless crowd and facing a 13-8 deficit past the midway point of the first half, Lyons got the Wildcats out of their seemingly routine offensive funk to start games. UA went on a 14-5 run, and Lyons accounted for 12 of the points - including the first 10 - to help the 'Cats pull in front 22-18 at the 5:34 mark.
Arizona kept the momentum going throughout the half and took a 33-25 advantage into the locker room.
"Mark Lyons is always so confident and he came out and hit his shots," Johnson said of his backcourt mate, who was an efficient 4 of 7 from the field before fouling out.
Arizona freshman Gabe York was the first guard off the bench and played eight minutes. He split a pair of 3-point attempts - York's basket with 13:11 to play gave UA its largest lead at 52-30 - and finished with three points and an assist.
Miller said he expects York and his shooting touch to be in the rotation for the remainder of the season, replacing Jordin Mayes.
Mayes, who played just six minutes and missed his lone shot attempt, is now shooting 30.8 percent this season - and just 21.4 percent in conference play.