Third-ranked Arizona heard the two-minute warning … and perked up.
For 38 minutes — give or take a couple here and there – Arizona didn’t look anything like it had in the last three weeks until it found some magic again to survive another close game and defeat host Oregon State 74-69 in Gill Coliseum.
It wasn’t pretty for Arizona, now winners of four consecutive games and 28 of 30 for the season.
But in college basketball, March is about survival and Arizona did exactly that.
It also was Arizona’s 108th win in the last four years, the best run for the school in a four-year stretch.
The Wildcats found a way as they had in a handful of games this season. And it came via free throws, something that’s given Arizona problems all year. But Arizona was able to hit 7 of 8 in the final 1:50 to pull away from the stubborn Beavers.
Some thought it a trap game for Arizona given the Wildcats faced surging Oregon on Saturday.
"We’ve taken, I don’t want to say punches but we’re that team that’s been ranked from the start where every time we’ve left home it’s been (tough)," Miller said. "I know Saturday will be like that again."
It wasn’t so electric in Gill Coliseum as only 5,651 fans showed up. They left unfulfilled after a 38-minute tease. For most of the game it appeared Arizona was headed for trouble and a possible upset, but behind freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half, and junior Nick Johnson Arizona pulled away.
Hollis-Jefferson hit four consecutive free throws, had a block and a defensive rebound in the final 90 seconds to help secure the win and avoid what would have been one of the biggest upsets in college basketball.
"Rondae made some big free throws and made some great plays down the stretch," Miller said. "He helped us win.
"… Every basket that Rondae had and any big play he had in the second half his team needed it. It was almost as if he bailed us out of two or three situations."
Johnson made another strong statement in his bid to be named the conference player of the year.
Arizona was uncharacteristically out rebounded 43-34 which allowed Oregon State to outscore Arizona 15-9 on second chance points. And Oregon State outscored Arizona 34-24 in the paint.
"We have to rebound better and we have to be a more physical team around the basket," Arizona coach Sean Miller said in his postgame radio show. "Very seldom, in an area that’s your strength on the road, and you leave with a win."
It’s good. One staple didn’t abandon Arizona. Its defense held Oregon State in the final five minutes to just five points. The game was tied at 64 with 5:15.
"We had some big blocks, steals and we were able to get stops," Miller said. "Because of that it turned the game around for us. Credit our team for finding a way."
Oregon State out rebounded Arizona 43-34, only the sixth time Arizona has lost the rebounding battle this season. The Wildcats crushed the Beavers on the boards 39-24 in the teams’ last meeting on Feb. 9, which host Arizona won 76-54.
"We had a hard time when they missed free throws; we had a hard time getting rebounds when (Devon) Collier missed his first shot," Miller said. "He had three or four offensive rebounds off of his own shot.
"That’s a problem that will cost us everything … we are fortunate to have won in spite of (poor rebounding)."
Miller credited Kaleb Tarczewski with his nine rebounds and 12 points. Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson each had six rebounds. Aaron Gordon had just two rebounds and eight points and was nowhere near the player he was last week when he had his most impressive game with 19 points and 15 rebounds.
"We weren’t really ourselves, Aaron in particular," Miller said. "He’s so talented in that area … that gets him going and one of his strengths. That’s one of our strengths in how good of a rebounder he is. For us to be able to win in spite of the rebound differential says a lot about us. Very easily we could have left here with a loss."
On the positive side, Arizona survived because it had just eight turnovers and Oregon State had 17. Arizona outscored Oregon State 21-12 in points off turnovers.
"Playing on the road in a game like tonight, it’s not easy to play with less than 10 but it gave us a chance," Miller said.
In hitting its final seven free throws (of eight) Arizona finished 19-30 from the free throw line.
"For us," Miller said, "sometimes we will take that."