SALT LAKE CITY – Few things have been easy for the Arizona Wildcats since forward Brandon Ashley was hurt earlier this month, and Wednesday was no exception.
Utah standout Delon Wright made a critical turnover with 24 seconds left and the Wildcats hit 5 of 6 free throws after that in their 67-63 overtime win at Utah tonight.
Counting the Cal game when Ashley was hurt on Feb. 1, the Wildcats have played two regulation games decided by two points, a double-overtime loss at ASU and tonight’s overtime game. Their only non nail-biter was a 76-54 win over Oregon State at McKale Center on Feb. 9.
With UA up 62-60 entering the final 44 seconds, Wright threw the ball straight out of bounds from the top of the key, apparently trying an alley-oop pass. Wright clutched his hands to his head after the error, and Nick Johnson hit two free throws with 21 seconds left, giving the Wildcats a 64-60 lead.
While Utah's Dallin Bachynski scored inside to cut it to 64-62 with 8.8 seconds left, it wasn't enough for the Utes. McConnell hit 1 of 2 free throws to put UA ahead by three and the Wildcats fouled Utah's Brandon Taylor before he had a chance to take a potentially game-tying three pointer.
Taylor then missed 1 of 2 while Nick Johnson took two more free throws with 1.9 seconds left for the final 67-63 margin.
Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson gave the Wildcats a 60-58 lead early in overtime on an offensive rebound but Johnson missed a chance to put the Wildcats further ahead when he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
But Taylor had bigger problems at the line: He missed all three free throws he had with 2:06 left, and Hollis-Jefferson scored again to put UA up by four.
Wright hit two free throws with 1:18 remaining to put the game at 62-60 entering the final minute. McConnell missed a layup with 46 seconds left and the ball went out of bounds in Utah’s favor, giving the Utes the ball and 44 seconds left to possibly win or tie the game before Wright threw it away.
The Wildcats actually shot worse (42.9 percent from the field) than Utah (43.4) and were outrebounded 37-31. But the Utes coughed up 16 turnovers and hit just 59.1 percent of their free throws, while standout forward Jordan Loveridge was just 1 of 12 from the field.
In regulation, after Utah began closing in on the Wildcats midway through the second half, and taking a 53-52 lead with 3:40 left when Loveridge hit a pair of free throws, Johnson hit a 17-footer to put Arizona ahead 56-55 with 2:15 left.
That lead held entering the final minute, though Loveridge hit 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game at 56 with 28 seconds left. However, the Wildcats couldn’t close out the game in regulationdespite having a final chance to score.
After UA ran the ball downcourt, Nick Johnson ran into trouble dribbling on the wing and called for a timeout with 3.4 seconds left.
After the timeout, McConnell inbounded from midcourt and received the ball back on the wing, then drove inside but pulled up and missed a six-footer.
The Wildcats were hurt down the stretch after Aaron Gordon fouled out for the first time this season with 8:41 left, having scored just three points with three rebounds.
Arizona took a 46-34 lead on a jumper from T.J. McConnell with 13:40 left but the Utes scored eight unanswered points to cut it to four points to bring the Huntsman Center crowd of about 14,000 to its feet.
The Utes then cut it to one, 52-51, on a three-pointer from Brandon Taylor with 4:31 left and the game stayed close the rest of the way.
In the first half, Arizona went on a 14-0 run and took a 35-26 halftime lead over Utah tonight.
Almost like in their game with the Utes last month at McKale Center, when Utah took an early 12-2 lead, the Wildcats struggled early and trailed 16-11. But they rattled off a 14-point run to go ahead 25-16 and held on to a big lead from there.
The Wildcats nearly made it 38-26 on a last-second three-point shot from Jordin Mayes but that shot was later called off.
The Wildcats started guard Gabe York over forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, though no reason was officially given by Arizona. York managed to score five points, on a three-pointer and a layup, at the end of UA’s run.
York finished the half with a team-high 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting while Arizona shot 54.2 percent overall from the field.
Utah shot 44.4 percent from the field but the Wildcats held their two biggest threats in check: Forward Jordan Loveridge was scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting and guard Delon Wright had five points on 2-for-5 shooting.
As UA coach Sean Miller indicated beforehand, the Wildcats went with a deeper rotation. Miller not only started York but played forward Matt Korcheck, guard Elliott Pitts early.
Korcheck rolled off a screen to score a layup while Mayes nearly had the three-pointer at the halftime buzzer.