TUCSON, Ariz. — For long stretches Monday night, the Washington men’s basketball team traded baskets in a shootout with the No. 8-ranked Arizona Wildcats, whom coach Mike Hopkins called one of the best teams in the country.
Even though the Huskies trailed for nearly the entire game — 38½ minutes in fact — they forced 21 turnovers and squeezed every little drop out of Terrell Brown Jr. to put themselves in position to capture an upset in their Pac-12 opener.
However, Arizona pulled away at the end and handed Washington a 95-79 defeat in a competitive game that belies the final score.
“There were a lot of positives,” Hopkins said. “There’s no consolation in losing, but I felt like our kids competed hard.”
Brown, who came into the game leading the Pac-12 in scoring and ranked sixth nationally among Division I players, did everything possible to keep the Huskies close with Arizona’s high-powered offense, which leads the nation in scoring (89.5 points per game).
The former Wildcat, who was peppered with taunts of “traitor” from a late-arriving McKale Center crowd of 12,496, finished with a game-high 28 points on 10-for-22 shooting, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals.
“Terrell Brown was spectacular,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “That’s the first time I’ve really seen him play and scouted him. He gets a ton of credit for coming in here tonight and (scoring 28 on) his old team.
“I told our guys, he might win a few of the battles, but our ultimate goal is to win the war as a team and luckily we did that tonight.”
Brown was spectacular, but even with Emmitt Matthews Jr. adding 16 points, including four three-pointers, and PJ Fuller chipping in 11 points, Washington couldn’t keep pace with Arizona’s trio of Bennedict Mathurin (27 points), Christian Koloko (22 points and 10 rebounds) and Kerr Kriisa (21).
In their first year under Lloyd, the longtime Gonzaga assistant, the Wildcats look like an early Pac-12 favorite and potential NCAA Final Four team.
Mathurin and Kriisa drained open three-pointers and contested threes while combining to connect on 10 of 18 shots behind the arc. Koloko scored in the paint against double teams and at times wiggled free for crowd-pleasing alley-oop dunks.
And aside from 21 turnovers, Arizona was amazingly efficient offensively while delivering 28 assists, including eight from Dalen Terry, on 33 field goals.
It was all too much for the Huskies, who entered the game as 24½-point underdogs.
“They’re so good offensively,” Hopkins said “They get up a couple plays here and there, then they get up early and they’re tapping you out like a UFC match. We stayed in it. We stayed positive. We stayed together.”
Washington kept pace with Arizona for the first four minutes before the Wildcats used an 11-0 run to take control early and go ahead 22-10 with 14:27 left in the first half.
Arizona hammered the Huskies with a handful of highlight plays, including Mathurin’s windmill dunk on a fast break for a 39-26 Wildcats lead.
However, Washington stayed in close contact thanks to a ball-hawking defense that forced 10 turnovers in the first half and Brown, who constantly probed the interior of the Arizona defense for an assortment of midrange jump shots and layups.
His short turnaround jumper cut UW’s deficit to 47-41 just before Azuolas Tubelis canned a shot that put Arizona up 49-41 at halftime.
“We felt like we took their best shot and we were down eight and had a chance to be down six,” Hopkins said. “We took that as a positive.”
The Huskies had their best stretch in the second half when Daejon Davis canned a three and backup center Riley Sorn connected on a putback before Matthews drained a pair of three-pointers to pull Washington to within 72-67 with 7:48 left.
Arizona (12-1, 2-0 Pac-12) answered with a 19-5 run to go up 91-72 with 2:09 remaining and the rout was on.
Washington (5-6, 0-1), which fell below .500 for the first time this season, continues its three-games-in-seven-days road trip Thursday at Utah.
“We’ve got a good resilient group with experience,” Hopkins said. “What does Ted Lasso say, you’ve got to have a mind like a goldfish and a 10-second memory. Learn from it and move forward.
“We played a top-10 team at their house and for the most part we did a pretty good job.”