Moments before a two-handed breakaway dunk that was one of roughly 648 for Arizona’s Aaron Gordon on Thursday night, there was a loose ball near midcourt.
And then Johnson was not in the proximity, because Gordon basically threw him out of the proximity with both hands, single-mindedly pursuing the ball by more or less absent-mindedly tossing an opponent aside.
If you like your basketball monoliths cold, unyielding and likely to help you up off the floor only to kick out your ankles and drop you on to a much more uncomfortable floor, may we present No. 1 Arizona.
On Thursday, the Wildcats passed the test of facing a wobbly, injury-wracked foe and nevertheless stomping that team into a shapeless heap of woe in a 69-57 win over Colorado.
Colorado isn’t the same Colorado as it was only a couple weeks ago. Back then, Spencer Dinwiddie hadn’t taken one bad step and had his ACL give way as a result and Tre’Shaun Fletcher hadn’t undergone knee surgery that will sideline him into March. That Colorado might have made Arizona nervous at some point, fully capable of handing the Wildcats what would be a nice, mostly harmless pressure-release loss. But it isn’t that Colorado, and that was the point Thursday: Arizona bloodlessly whomped the Buffaloes anyway.
It’s what great teams do, making sure overmatched teams look actually overmatched, siphoning off all hope very early with unfeeling efficiency. Colorado shot 37.5 percent on two-point attempts. Arizona had more steals (eight) than the Buffaloes had assists (four). Meanwhile, the Wildcats shot 59 percent on two-point attempts and recorded just six turnovers. Four of five starters shot 50 percent from the floor or better.
Probably insanely, it’s been written on this site before that Arizona might be the last unbeaten left due to persistent implosions everywhere else around the Pac-12. The next stretch will test that a bit, with a capable Utah team visiting the McKale Center on Sunday and the northern California road swing to Stanford and California following that. But Arizona honed its close-out ability in early January at UCLA and honed its mercilessness against rival Arizona State and weakened Colorado in its last two outings. It’s becoming increasingly impossible to find glaring flaws and to bet against the Wildcats in any situation. The apparent best team in the nation moved to 19-0 Thursday and where it stops, nobody knows.
Cincinnati 69, Central Florida 51. The surprise pace-setters in the American Athletic Conference were slogging through a sleepy home game against a team that had won just one of five league games before Thursday. Then the Bearcats went all Arizona on the Knights. A three-point halftime lead swelled to 18 fairly swiftly when Cincinnati hit eight of its first 11 shots out of intermission. As usual, the team ranked No. 4 nationally in kenpom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings did some smothering, and Justin Jackson led that effort to continue one of the least expected conference-player-of-the-year candidacies ever. Jackson only had 12 points Thursday, second to Sean Kilpatrick’s 19, but the senior forward added seven blocks – seven! – and four steals.
Gonzaga 56, San Diego 53. The Bulldogs entered as a borderline top 25 outfit, but guard Gary Bel, Jr. returned after a six-game absence due to a broken hand. Bell only provided five points off the bench and it was a Kevin Pangos three-pointer late that made the difference. Mainly, though? This was a bizarre result. San Diego was 2-5 in the WCC coming in. And, in a figure that defies all sense and logic, the Toreros hit 19 field goals Thursday… with just three assists. Three. Total. It’s as if each pass by a San Diego player represented a ball to be used in a drawing, in which the grand prize was a grad transfer year at the University of Gdansk. In this context, at home, Gonzaga shot 48.1 percent and won by just three. Which brings us to... Portland 114, BYU 110 (3OT). BYU visits Gonzaga next, which assumes BYU will not dissolve into a puddle before that. The Cougars went on an 8-1 run late in the first overtime to force a second extra session. Then it was the Pilots rallying from a five-point deficit in the final minute of that second overtime to force the third. Portland then ran off the first seven points of the third overtime to create a gap that couldn't be closed. The numbers, predictably, got a little silly. Thomas van der Mars posted 26 points and 17 rebounds for Portland, with Bobby Sharp coming off the bench to add 26 himself. Meanwhile, BYU's Tyler Haws detonated for 48 points, though he managed only one field goal in the final two overtime sessions.