Late 4-point play stuns No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 21 Washington State

Feb 22, 2024, 11:57 PM

Arizona Wildcats guard Caleb Love #2 drives past Washington State Cougars forward Isaac Jones #13 d...

Arizona Wildcats guard Caleb Love #2 drives past Washington State Cougars forward Isaac Jones #13 during the first half of a men's basketball game between the Washington State Cougars and the University of Arizona Wildcats on February 22, 2024 at McKale Center in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For the first and likely last time this season, the No. 4 Arizona Wildcats faced a ranked opponent in conference play, and the No. 21 Washington State Cougars beat them 77-74 on Thursday at McKale Center to take over the top spot in the Pac-12 standings.

Arizona nearly won another game this season with an over-reliance on Pac-12 Player of the Year favorite Caleb Love. He had a team-high 27 points and five assists.

Love’s and-one finish with 51 seconds left put the Wildcats up three and in a position to escape a closely contested game with a win. Washington State then missed a 3 on the ensuing possession but center Oumar Ballo was unable to corral a rebound, leading to an open kick-out 3 for Jalyen Wells, who knocked down his sixth of the evening and was fouled by Keshad Johnson for a four-point play in the process to retake the lead.

Love drove with under 10 seconds remaining and slipped on a wet spot of the floor, traveling in the process to end the game.

Arizona’s struggles this season have largely been tied to when the pace of a game gets bogged down, something Washington State wants to do. That brought on a 34-33 first half. If not for Love scoring 17 of his 27 points in it, Arizona would have trailed by much more than a point.

The Wildcats lack confident off-the-dribble playmakers to consistently break down a defense and put pressure on it. Love also makes up the majority of the individual shot-making on the team, putting Arizona in a challenging spot to score in half-court situations. It’s an absence of an assertive direction to the offense as a whole that can be attributed to the system as well.

It all adds up to more of a coin flip type of outcome for Arizona when games slow down, especially against good teams. This is despite the Wildcats having a very talented top-eight of the rotation that might be the best in the country when it comes to how well rounded it is.

The Cougars played aggressive, confident basketball all night. Stud freshman guard Myles Rice was held in check on 2-for-12 shooting but Wells’ 27 points helped make up for that.

Arizona, who averaged 90.7 points per game this season coming into Thursday, hasn’t been able to adapt to lower scoring affairs. Thursday’s loss dropped the Wildcats to a 3-3 record when it fails to score over 80 points after they were 8-6 across those contests last year. They are a combined 37-4 since the beginning of last season when scoring over 80 points.

Thursday marked the Wildcats’ first loss at home this season.

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Late 4-point play stuns No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 21 Washington State