Maybe it was the expectation of a potential No. 1 ranking, or maybe the Wildcats’ white-out curse, or maybe just some shaky defense.
But Arizona had trouble putting away unranked UNLV today, winning 63-58 only after T.J. McConnell gave the Wildcats a jump shot, two key assists and a free throw in the final 3:10.
The win moved Arizona to 9-0 and, while their close call might cost them a few first-place votes, the Wildcats are expected to gain the No. 1 ranking in both major Top 25 polls on Monday. Arizona is now 2-2 in games when it holds a "white out" promotion, having lost the two previous seasons.
UNLV dropped to 3-4.
In a neck-and-neck game throughout the second half, Arizona took a 60-57 lead with 2:11 to go when McConnell found Rondae Hollis-Jefferson driving the baseline, and Hollis-Jefferson took it in for a dunk.
After UNLV got only one free throw out of three ensuing possessions, UA took a 62-58 lead when Brandon Ashley drove inside for a layup on an assist from McConnell with 27 seconds left and after UNLV’s Bryce Dejean-Jones missed a three-pointer, McConnell drew a foul and hit 1 of 2 free throws with 15 seconds left to seal it.
UA was led offensively by McConnell, who added 13 points and seven rebounds to his six assists, while Brandon Ashley had 13. Dejean-Jones led UNLV with 16 points.
UA won despite the fact that guard Nick Johnson hit only 2 of 9 three-pointers (UA was 3 of 16 overall as a team), guard Gabe York was benched after playing just six minutes because of an apparent defensive mistake, and Aaron Gordon shot just 2 for 10 from the field and suffered a gash near his left eye.
Arizona jumped on a quick 6-0 run to start the second half, hitting two field goals in the first 37 seconds thanks to a UNLV turnover, but couldn’t shake the Rebels until the final seconds.
UA went ahead 52-49 on a dunk from Gordon with 12:05 left but Gordon was soon lost to the bench after taking an inadvertent elbow from Brandon Ashley to his left eye.
Gordon was treated on the bench by trainer Justin Kokoskie and later held an ice bag over it. He missed about four minuts before returning.
In the first half, UNLV shot 64 percent from the field while taking a 42-39 halftime lead.
Dejean-Jones lead the Rebels in scoring with 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting but UNLV had four other players scoring six or more points. UA was led by Johnson, who had 10 points but shot just 3 of 9 from the field while forward Gordon was held to just two points.
UA took leads of up to six points late in the first half before UNLV closed out the half on a 9-2 run, getting four jump shots and a three-pointer during the stretch.
Kaleb Tarczewski paced UA early, scoring all six of the Wildcats’ points in the first four minutes while the team started out in a 6-6 tie. But UNLV went ahead 16-11 with 13:31 left after Dejean-Jones and Christian Wood hit three-pointers.
Dejean-Jones had 10 points through the first 12 minutes, going 3 for 4 from the field with two three pointers.
The teams continued to trade leads through the middle of the first half, before UA went head 29-23 after Johnson hit a three and Brandon Ashley made a short jumper.
Today’s game was the first of a four-game series between the regional rivals. UA is scheduled to return the game at Las Vegas next December.