TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona let the opposing team dictate the pace on its home court, struggled defensively in the second half and watched as yet another last-second shot ping-ponged off the rim and the backboard.
When the shot finally fell to the floor, the Wildcats walked off with another close victory and another big sigh of relief.
Coming off a nail-biting win in its conference opener, No. 3 Arizona escaped with a 60-57 victory over Utah on Saturday after a last-second shot by Utes guard Jarred DuBois bounced twice off the rim and once off the backboard before missing.
“We pulled out another lucky one,” Arizona swingman Kevin Parrom said. “We’ve had a lot of lucky ones the past couple of weeks.”
They sure have.
Arizona (14-0, 2-0 Pac-12) pulled out a one-point victory over Florida in a matchup of top-10 teams on Dec. 15 by scoring seven points in the final 56 seconds.
The Wildcats earned another close victory and the Diamondhead Classic title on Christmas when Nick Johnson swooped in to swat away a shot that secured a one-point win over San Diego State.
Arizona pulled off perhaps its best rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick of the season Thursday, rallying from 16 points down in the second half to beat Colorado 92-83 in overtime.
The Wildcats seemed to catch a break in that one when the officials waved off Sabatino Chen’s banked 3-pointer at the end of regulation and pulled away in the extra period.
Their latest was of a different variety: Instead of rallying to victory, the Wildcats had to hold onto it.
Arizona struggled with Utah’s mix of man and zone most of the game, shooting 36 percent. The Wildcats let the Utes slow the pace and ended up with no points on the fast break.
Arizona also had some defensive breakdowns, allowing Jordan Loveridge to score 13 points in the first half and Utah to make 14 of 27 shots in the second.
The Wildcats pulled it out, though, thanks to a pair of free throws by Mark Lyons with 7.2 seconds left and some lucky bounces off the rim and backboard on DuBois’ shot.
Solomon Hill led Arizona with 19 points, Lyons had 12 and four assists, and Brandon Ashley scored 11 points.
Arizona is off to its best start since opening the 1931-32 season with 16 straight wins, but it hasn’t been particularly easy over the past few weeks.
“We are not playing well. We are nowhere where we need to be,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “Sometimes you hit a peak when you’re playing so well and think no one in the country can beat you. Once in a while you don’t play well and are reminded how difficult it is to win every game. We got through a weekend where the difference was very few points, but we were able to win both.”
The Utes will leave the desert with two disappointing losses.
Utah (8-6, 0-2) lost in overtime to Arizona State in its conference opener and kept Arizona in reach behind its morphing defense and good shooting in the second half.
The Utes pulled within 58-57 when Cedric Martin hit a 3-pointer with 57 seconds left and had a chance take the lead after Arizona’s Nick Johnson missed a 3-pointer, but DuBois missed a 3 of his own.
After Lyons’ free throws and a foul by Arizona, Utah set up for a final shot and set up DuBois for a good look. His shot hit the rim, bounced off the top of the backboard, then hit the rim again before falling to the floor.
Jason Washburn had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Loveridge finished with 17 points for the Utes, who still haven’t won a road or neutral-court conference game since joining the Pac-12 last season.
“It’s extremely frustrating because we came so close the past two games,” Washburn said. “When our team plays well enough to win on the road against the No. 3 team in the country and it’s taken away from you, I have no words for that.”
Arizona built a 10-point lead in the first half.
But, as has been the case over the past month, the Wildcats couldn’t sustain their success, letting Utah get back in it.
After going 7 of 22 from the floor in the first half — Loveridge was 5 of 10 and had all but 10 of their 23 points — the Utes started getting some shots to fall in the second half, pulling within 47-44 midway through on a 3-pointer by Washburn as the shot clock was winding down.
Washburn cut Arizona’s lead to 51-50 with 5 1-2 minutes left and the Utes kept hanging around, never letting Arizona get more than four points ahead.
But, just like it did against Arizona State, Utah couldn’t get the right shot to fall at the right time and left with another agonizingly-close loss.
“We have to make shots,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “That’s what we are not doing.”
The Wildcats are making just enough of theirs, but know they can’t keep walking such a thin line with almost the entire Pac-12 season still ahead.