Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller expected one of the toughest tests his team would face all season Thursday night.
That’s exactly what Boise State delivered at the McKale Center.
But the Broncos also got exactly what they anticipated from the No. 12 Wildcats — a wide array of scorers and perhaps the most difficult road environment in the country.
Arizona extended its nation-leading home winning streak to 41 games with its 88-76 win over Boise State, not pulling away until the final minutes.
“We knew when we scheduled Boise State they had a tremendous offensive team,” Miller said. “They’re a very difficult matchup for any team in the country.”
Boise State (1-2) knew if it wanted to pull the upset, it had to stop a team that was just as difficult to guard. The Wildcats (3-0) used all their top-level talent, from its shortest player (5-foot-11 guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright) to its pair of 7-footers.
Forward Ryan Anderson came into Thursday leading the Wildcats with 16.5 points per game, and was held to eight on 4-of-13 shooting. The rest of the team combined to shoot 60.9 percent (28-of-46), with the bench outscoring Boise State’s 38-3.
“They had more athletic people than us, but we battled. We did what we could for the most part, went down on defense a little bit,” junior forward James Webb III said.
The Wildcats made 13 of their first 21 field goals in the second half, coming out strong after a back-and-forth first half in which Arizona took a 44-42 lead.
The lead changed hands 15 times and was tied six times before Gabe York’s jumper and free throw with 17:58 left made it 52-49 in Arizona’s favor, a lead it never relented.
York had a career-high 23 points, Jackson-Cartwright had 14 off the bench and 7-footers Kaleb Tarczewski and Dusan Ristic combined for 12 points and 14 rebounds in 35 combined minutes.
“It gave us some confidence, even though we lost, because we know that we can play with them. It just got out of our hands toward the end,” Webb said.
Webb put together perhaps his best game at Boise State, made all the more impressive considering the opponent. He had a career-high 27 points and added nine rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Broncos almost lost him early in the second half when he landed awkwardly on his ankle making a rebound with 17:09 to play, but returned less than two minutes later.
“His best thing is his motor, he kept that motor running and made some plays because of it and flew around,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “When he went down, that was a little bit scary, because he was hurting, he hurt his ankle pretty bad. He’s a tough kid, came back in and you wouldn’t think he hurt it.”
Even in those two minutes with Webb out, Boise State was outscored 5-0. When he left with 10:08 to go, trailing 68-64 when he got his fourth foul, the Wildcats forced two turnovers on back-to-back possessions, leading 73-66 when Webb returned just 77 seconds later. He said his ankle was numb during and after the game.
The Broncos made one of their last field goal attempts as the Wildcats outscored them 13-5 in the final six minutes.
“We got a little tired and settled for shots, against a good team if you settle for something or make a mistake, they make you pay every time and it was 100 percent tonight in those situations,” Rice said.
On Monday, Miller called Boise State junior forward Nick Duncan “one of the great shooters in the game.” Duncan delivered, hitting five 3-pointers on his way to 21 points, his fourth career 20-point game. Senior guard Mikey Thompson had 12 points and seven assists in his first start of the season.
“Especially with James Webb on the team, we both could exploit their big men, spread them out,” Duncan said.
The Broncos’ next test is a slight drop in challenge, Monday at home against Concordia (Ore.). Then it’s three games in California at the Wooden Legacy, with a potential rematch against Arizona on Sunday.
But first, the Broncos have to win.
“It’s a good measuring stick, we went toe-to-toe for 35-plus minutes, one or two possessions most of the game,” Rice said.
“We’re not into the moral victories. I’m proud of them, but know what we have to get better at.”
Boise State will play in 2016 Charleston Classic
The Broncos have accepted an invitation to the eight-team tournament in South Carolina on Nov. 17, 18 and 20, ESPN Events announced Thursday. The Broncos are part of a field that includes host College of Charleston, Mississippi State, Central Florida, UTEP, Villanova, Wake Forest and Western Michigan. All but UTEP and Western Michigan would be first-time foes for the Broncos.