Arizona shows fight in 'best win of the year'
TUCSON – In the end, there was no tie.
Overtime, yes, and an on-the-court skirmish, too. But in the end, Arizona was able to get by Oregon State 81-73 in McKale Center on Thursday night.
Arizona coach Sean Miller used the term "hard-fought" a couple times.
Hard-fought indeed. For 40-plus minutes, the two teams played relatively even. Arizona finally pulled away on a key play when Kyle Fogg hit a driving layup and was fouled by OSU's Jared Cunningham with 1:15 left in overtime.
Fogg, who had a game-high 23 points, thought the foul was hard and confronted Cunningham under the basket. A scuffle ensued, with UA player Kyryl Natyazhko getting tossed after coming off the bench to get into it. OSU's Joe Barton was thrown out, too.
Fogg and Cunningham were each assessed a technical. It was their fifth foul each, sending both to the bench for the rest of the night.
Only one basket was scored afterward (by Arizona), with OSU going 0 for 7 from the floor in the overtime.
"It's our best win of the year," said Miller, who removed his tie during the last-minute altercation. "We had to be resilient and had to fight through some bad plays."
But there were enough good ones to move to 12-5 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-12 race, while OSU fell to 11-6 and 1-4.
"I don't look at them as a 1-4 team," Miller said. "They're going to get on track and be a very dangerous team."
They were certainly dangerous enough for Arizona, a team that couldn't shake OSU at any point until the end.
"The shame of it is you play that hard and get in the game and you can't hold yourself together enough to finish it," said OSU coach Craig Robinson. "It's disappointing. We didn't play our best game, and we were right there with them. That's where we are in our development."
Same for Arizona, although the victory helps the team keep pace among the league leaders. They can thank senior reserve Brendon Lavender for helping – if not carrying – the 'Cats to the win. He turned into Mr. Big Shot (again), hitting 6 of 7 shots, including 5 of 6 three-pointers, to keep Arizona in the game.
"That's my job," he said. "I am one of the best shooters on the court. I'm glad my teammates found me. I've been working hard on my shot."
He finished with a career-high-tying 18 points, just two weeks after having 18 against Bryant.
"It was more meaningful to me this time," Lavender said. "It was a conference game and I hit clutch shots for us."
He was so clutch he even had Miller second-guessing himself about playing time for his team's best shooter. Entering the game, Lavender was averaging just 3.9 points and 9.9 minutes per game, but was hitting 56 percent of his threes. He played 19 minutes Thursday. Miller even speculated that after Lavender's performance, he might be leading the nation in three-point percentage.
"If you looked at him statistically, you could look back at me and (ask), 'Coach, does he deserve to play more?' Miller said. "I'd say, 'Yes.' Not by leaps and bounds, but giving him a bigger window is something that will make our team better. That's a credit to Brendon."
Lavender was the only player made available to the media after the game, but he said the intensity wasn't a surprise.
"It was an emotional game," he said. "We wanted to win real bad. We've been working real hard. We're excited about the win. … It was a crazy game. They were being really aggressive. That's basketball. We were ready. Both teams love to compete. That's basketball. Stuff like that happens."
As for Miller talking to his players about the skirmish?
"He said when stuff like that happens to stay on the bench," Lavender said. "It's not helping us win."
Arizona may have gotten a spark from Miller, who -- after the pushing and shoving between the teams -- removed his tie and tossed it behind UA's bench.
"You know coach," Lavender said. "He's a real intense guy. He loves to win. To see that passion, it really pumps us up also."
Said Miller: "I didn't even remember taking off my tie. I do nothing for (attention). I'm not showing off. Somehow my hands got to my tie and took it off."
It's not clear if Natyazhko, who played just seven minutes, will be available to play Saturday against Oregon because of the ejection. Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said the Pac-12 will review the game tape to see what exactly happened. But, as of late Thursday night, UA understands the rule as stating, "They were ejected for leaving the bench area, but as long as there wasn't a fight they aren't suspended for the next game."