The implausible script for Nic Wise's Arizona basketball career outdid itself again Saturday.
Who could have possibly written this chapter? Arizona's senior point guard, playing his final regular-season game at home under his fourth head coach, uncharacteristically kicked away a few chances to beat USC, then returned to drive inside for a layup with one second left to give the Wildcats a 86-84 win in the second overtime.
It happened. Somehow.
Here's one account: A ball rolls off Wise's foot for a turnover near the end of regulation, which finished tied only after Kyle Fogg sinks all three free throws he took with 0.2 of a second left. Despite being an 89 percent free-throw shooter, Wise misses two free throws in the first overtime, then bounces a potential buzzer-beating jumper off the rim, sending the game into the second overtime.
It became more blurry, more breathtaking, more exhausting from there. Yet what really mattered was that, at the end, it was Wise driving inside for a layup that gave the Wildcats the victory.
"We had so many chances to end it earlier," Wise said. "But I guess when something like this happens, it goes to show you that everything happens for a reason."
Yes, if having four coaches in four years has taught Wise anything, it's that converting to fatalism is a good way to keep you from banging your head against the wall.
Wise spent his first season at UA often riding the bench, his second season getting hurt for a month when he was playing his best, his third season helping carve the limited Wildcats into a Sweet 16 team, and his fourth season helping ease Sean Miller's oft-challenging first season.
Thanks to Wise, the Wildcats are now guaranteed at least a .500 record and will have a better shot (if they want it) at the NIT at 16-14 overall and 10-8 in the Pac-10. They earned a No. 4 seed in the Pac-10 tournament and will face UCLA in a quarterfinal Thursday at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Their third straight win also gave them confidence that maybe, just maybe, they could earn a 26th straight NCAA appearance by winning the Pac-10 tournament and its accompanying automatic bid this week.
"In a funny way this game has represented our entire season," Miller said, "and in a funny way this game kind of represented Nic Wise's career and kind of what he's endured, the peaks and valleys, the ups and downs.
"To leave on a high note for him in McKale is gratifying for all of us knowing what he's provided this season."
Miller actually gave fate a boost Saturday. Unlike a week ago, when he inserted MoMo Jones for Wise in the final possessions at Stanford - and Jones responded with a buzzer-beating bank shot to win that one 71-69 - Miller had Jones on the bench this time.
And he didn't think twice about it.
"I was not going to do that," Miller said. "Every player who's a senior deserves to control the outcome if he has that role. Like I've said, (Stanford) was just one situation. Nic's been there about in 29 of the 30 games at the end and today was no different."
Indeed, Wise also hit memorable back-to-back game-winners against Lipscomb and North Carolina State back in December, when Jones was still a limited factor. But the two kept bonding all season as Jones improved, and it was Wise who jumped off the bench to congratulate Jones a week ago at Stanford.
On Saturday, Jones returned the favor, racing off the bench and hoisting Wise up high at midcourt, with the rest of the Wildcats cramming into the mob scene.
The two hugged again and exchanged words that neither will likely ever forget.
"I was basically telling him it's his turn now, I'm handing over the keys to him," Wise said. "He's the point guard of the future here. He was telling me he loved me for everything I've done for him this year and vice versa. We have a great relationship and he's going to keep the motor going."
It was the second of many hugs Wise offered and received. The first came at the end of regulation, when Wise embraced Fogg on the court after the congenial sophomore managed to sink all three free throws to preserve a hope that Wise could end his homecourt career happily.
Or maybe it was Wise just holding Fogg upright.
"I wish I could tell you I had ice water in my veins," Fogg said. "But, man, I was shaking, especially because it was Nic's last game at home. I didn't want to go out like that."
Instead, it was USC coach Kevin O'Neill, one of Wise's four coaches at UA, who finished his season under a circumstance he wasn't happy about. O'Neill disagreed with the foul called on USC's Nikola Vucevic when Fogg shot beyond the three-point line, saying "everyone knows what happened there."
But somebody had to lose, and Wise has already seen plenty of losses. Certainly more losses (54) than he expected when he committed in 2003 as a 15-year-old to the Wildcats, who had just come off an Elite Eight season.
Yet after the last game of the regular season of his last year, Wise found it wasn't about wins and losses so much as relationships.
He tried to follow the advice of teammates who told him not to cry during the Senior Day ceremony, but said he teared up a little bit.
Who could blame him?
"I just felt a lot of love," Wise said. "I think I held it in pretty well. It's tough what I've been through. Talking to Coach, he didn't think another player in college history has gone through what I went through. Sometimes, it's hard to hold it in but I have a lot of love for the fans and this university. It was a great feeling today."
On StarNet: Enter the March Mayhem $1,000,000 Challenge basketball contest: azstarnet.com/marchmayhem • See more photos from the game: azstarnet.com/gallery
• What: Arizona vs. UCLA, Pac-10 tournament
• Where: Los Angeles
• When: 1 p.m., Thursday
• TV: FSAZ
Tourney bracket, Page C7
TRUST IN WISE
Game-winning shots for Nic Wise in 2009-2010. (Lipscomb, Dec. 21; North Carolina State, Dec. 23; USC, Saturday)