Greg Hansen: UA finds way to rustle up a win

2011-03-21T00:00:00Z 2011-03-21T00:07:08Z Greg Hansen: UA finds way to rustle up a winGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 21, 2011 12:00 am  • 

TULSA, Okla. - Sometimes the Road to the Sweet 16 has no semblance of order, no clear directions and no explanation.

Derrick Williams didn't see his game-tying basket roll through the net. Kyryl Natyazhko, of all people, outplayed Texas' star big man Tristan Thompson. And MoMo Jones, who didn't score a point, was so happy he couldn't stop crying.

"I'm still pinching myself," said UA forward Jesse Perry. "Someday my kids might think I'm making it up when I tell them about these two games in Tulsa."

When Arizona's Sean Miller walked to midcourt for the traditional coaches' handshake Sunday night, Texas' Rick Barnes was in pursuit of the referees, pleading for a review or a replay, unwilling to accept what had just gone down.

Miller grabbed Barnes' hand, shook it, and then looked toward the refs and pointed to the exit, as if to say "game over, clear the floor."

On the improbability meter, Arizona's 70-69 victory over Texas pushed the needle into the red and beyond.

For 25 years, Arizona has known what it is to lose a game the way it won Sunday's game at BOK Center. The Wildcats lost chaotic finishes to UNLV, Oklahoma, Seton Hall, Kansas and Villanova, and every time they came home dispirited and broken-hearted, you assumed that someday it would all even out.

On Sunday it evened out.

"I'm happy the clock ended when it did," Miller said an hour after the game. "But I'm biased; I'm on the winning side of the coin. I've been on both sides."

He was so happy that he walked halfway across the court, pumped his arm and waved to the few diehards in the Arizona cheering section. He rarely shows emotion like that. His wife and sons couldn't stop hugging those around them dressed in red.

"It looked like we might blow it," said Natyazhko, an unexpected hero. "Maybe it feels better because we got something back that we thought we had let go."

Arizona beat the Longhorns the same way most NCAA tournament underdogs chop down teams with bigger reputations. It made a flurry of three-point baskets. Jordin Mayes and Brendon Lavender combined to go 6 for 6.

It was as if the Longhorns, who had designed their game plan to collapse on Williams inside, hadn't even scouted Mayes and Lavender. You could almost read their lips when one of them would bury a trey: "Who was that?"

"We needed two things to happen," said Jones. "We needed to be physical with Thompson and limit his touches; most teams who play Texas aren't physical. We were. Kyryl made him think twice about going inside.

"The other thing was that Jordin and Brendon were fearless. In a game like this, it's not easy to take those shots, or make those shots. This was their night."

Miller chatted with Natyazhko before the game and explained that he might play more than usual; on Sunday he played 16 minutes. It had been so long since Natyazhko had been a factor, that it was difficult to remember how to spell his name.

"Coach told me this would be my chance," he said. "It was the best game of my life and the best game of my career."

And he didn't even score.

For the first 33 minutes, the Wildcats were mostly in command without help from Williams. How unlikely is that? With seven minutes remaining, Williams had scored a mere eight points. He missed so many free throws that it was unnerving. Two days earlier, Williams was 9 for 9 from the line against Memphis.

"I don't know what the problem was," said Jamelle Horne. "But every time Derrick missed a free throw, I got this real bad feeling."

In the last 6:48, Williams scored nine points. He was always in traffic, pushed and shoved and maneuvered out of position any time he touched the ball. So of course he made the tying shot, on a play where he was almost at a 45-degree angle when he released the ball, and swished the winning free throw.

When Williams entered the happy locker room, he told the UA's video coordinator that he wanted to see a replay of his tying bucket with 9.6 seconds left.

"I didn't see it go in," he said. "I was lying on the floor. There were bodies everywhere. I just heard a lot of noise."

Williams has created so much noise this year that it should create an echo all the way to Anaheim, where the Wildcats will play Duke on Thursday in the Sweet 16.

"Everybody grew up wanting to play Duke, wanting to beat Duke," he said. "I can't wait."

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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