Arizona blocks Washington’s comeback
Derrick Williams powered through defenders and the pain in his taped-up right pinky to score at the rim. He soared over opponents to snare rebounds. One of Arizona’s worst 3-point shooters in practice, he again came through with the lights on, hitting a big one from the perimeter in the closing minutes.
All that turned out to be just the build-up to the big finish.
Coiling and springing from just inside the paint, Williams leaped up and swatted Darnell Grant’s shot into the stands, then topped it off by stealing the inbound pass to preserve No. 12 Arizona’s wild, 87-86 win over Washington on Saturday.
”It was a heck of a play by Derrick Williams,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.
And a heck of a night.
Playing the way he did before his pinky injury three weeks ago, Williams powered over and through Washington for 26 points and 13 rebounds. He scored 10 of his points in the final 6 minutes and hit a 3-pointer from in front of Arizona’s bench to put the Wildcats up one with just over a minute left.
Williams saved his best for the closing seconds, on the defensive end, no less.
Solomon Hill gave Arizona the lead on a putback with 24 seconds left, but the Wildcats traded a turnover by Washington with one of their own after struggling to get the ball inbound.
Taking the ball out under the basket with 2.2 seconds left, the Huskies got the ball to Gant in the lane, a chance for the win in his hands.
Williams took it away.
Timing his leap perfectly, he swatted the ball at the top of its arc, sending it several rows into the stands. The Huskies had one more shot with less than a second left, but Williams took that away, too, poking the inbound pass away, then running to midcourt, where his teammates piled on and the fans started a chant of ”One more year!”
”I really can’t explain it – it’s unexplainable,” Williams said as he rested his pinky on a bag of ice. ”It’s just a great feeling. It’s really good we got that win.”
Williams’ finishing flourish capped off a memorable night – for both teams.
The McKale Center always has one of the best atmosphere’s in college basketball and had some extra juice for what may be Arizona’s biggest game since Sean Miller became coach nearly two years ago.
The Pac-10’s two highest-scoring teams put on quite a show amid a whiteout of T-shirt-wearing fans, trading runs and spectacular plays, not to mention emotions and a few elbows.
Arizona (23-4, 12-2 Pac-10) fed off the atmosphere early, quickly building a double-digit lead. Washington (18-8, 10-5) fought its way back, grabbing a slew of careless passes by the Wildcats to grab the lead in the second half.
That set up a furious final 7 minutes that left everyone spent and the winning coach so charged up he congratulated the losing coach for a great win at the postgame handshake.
”I was so caught up in emotion, I think I said ‘good win,”’ Miller said. ”What I meant to say, what a game. It’s a shame one team had to lose.”
Arizona won it behind Williams and another strong effort from his supporting cast.
Lamont Jones had 12 points and four assists to overcome a handful of sloppy turnovers and erratic shots. Kevin Parrom had 11 points and played solid defense, including a track-him-down swat of Isaiah Thomas on a breakaway in the second half. Jesse Perry added 11 points and Hill hit what eventually became the game-winning basket, giving Arizona its eighth straight win and control of the Pac-10 race with four games left before the conference tournament.
”I’ve never played in a game like this before, with the type of crowd we had and the type of team we played,” Perry said.
Washington won the first meeting between these two teams, nearly running the Wildcats out of the gym as Thomas almost slid out of it while saving a loose ball with a memorable baseball slide.
The Huskies appeared to be headed toward being on the other end of a rout after Arizona’s opening flurry before gathering themselves.
Thomas, after a relatively quiet first half, began to assert himself in the second, setting up three straight dunks with sweet passes to help the Huskies claw their way back. C.J. Wilcox kept stroking in jumpers after scoring 11 points in the first half and Bryan-Amaning had a dunk on a pick-and-roll with Venoy Overton to put Washington up 72-68 with 7 1/2 minutes left.
It just wasn’t enough.
The Huskies couldn’t stop Williams over the final 5 minutes and couldn’t get a shot to the rim in the closing seconds, all but ending their hopes of a second Pac-10 championship in three years.
”This loss was tough,” said Bryan-Amaning, who led the Huskies with 20 points, eight rebounds, six blocked shots and four assists. ”It was a lot harder mentally than physically. I just hope that the guys can keep their head up because this season isn’t over yet.”