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February 21, 2013

Wildcats could find traction after win over UW

A win is more than just a win when it leads to greater things.

Home wins over Washington have often carried particular meaning for Arizona in recent years.

The 2005 win over a top-10 ranked Husky team was one of McKale Center's most memorable contests, and a key to UA's regular season Pac-10 Conference championship. A six-year league title hiatus ended in 2011, when another of McKale's all-time great games came down to a Derrick Williams block in the final second.

UA's 70-52 rout of UW on Wednesday may lack the same hefty implications - this season's Huskies are languishing near the Pac-12 basement - but the Wildcats' performance had the feel of a pivotal moment.

"Tonight our identity was in place," was how head coach Sean Miller described the win in his postgame press conference. "We got to where we are as a team."

Bill Walton called it UA's best performance of the season on the ESPN2 broadcast. That's certainly debatable given its offensive anemia the opening 10 minutes and a lackluster stretch late in the second half.

It had been awhile since UA exhibited the kind of fluidity it displayed against UW. Perhaps its 20-point win over USC? But then, that was a Trojan bunch in flux, less than two weeks removed from the mid-season firing of Kevin O'Neill.

Maybe go back further, to the Wildcats' trip to Tempe and a venue that often brings out the best in UA teams. A romp over Arizona State might be this team's benchmark for productivity in this Pac-12 season, but Thursday laid a solid foundation for a group that has stood on shaky ground in recent weeks.

Mark Lyons was a whirling dervish offensively, while limiting his turnovers to two. Nick Johnson had arguably his best performance in conference play. Solomon Hill took the reins as senior captain, bringing the Wildcats out of the doldrums of an ugly first few minutes with a sequence of:

- Basket on a drive

- Tip-in on the offensive glass

- 3-pointer

Contributions off the bench supplementing the tremendous play of UA's starting trio might be the most noteworthy, long-term takeaway from Wednesday. Angelo Chol's integration into the rotation continued, while Brandon Ashley had his second inspired performance as a reserve.

But no story is bigger than the play of Gabe York. The freshman guard got his long-awaited opportunity and made the most of it. His jump shot could be the trump card UA has been lacking to keep zone defenses honest.

Wednesday was almost two years to the day Williams swatted Darnell Gant to move UA closer to its first conference championship of Miller's tenure: Feb. 19, 2011.

"On the road to a championship, it's definitely about resilience and effort, than it is the coaches drawing up the prefect play," Miller told reporters after the win.

Hill summed up UA's play on Feb. 20, 2013 similarly, though in not as many words: "We brought it today."

Kyle KensingKyle Kensing
GOAZCATS.com Staff Writer

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