A Texas Tech three-point attempt clanked off the rim with 25 seconds left, into the grasp of Jasmine Caston, a Red Raider.
Caston missed the put-back with 16 seconds left.
Four seconds later, UA’s LaBrittney Jones snared the defensive rebound. Instead of fouling, Texas Tech backed off.
The Wildcats were up by nine with less than 10 seconds to go. A win was secure — Arizona’s first since Nov. 16.
Still, with three seconds left, UA coach Niya Butts called a 30-second timeout, just to be sure.
Then, Jones inbounded the ball to Candice Warthen, and the buzzer sounded.
“All I wanna say is,” Butts said, “Cats win.”
She hasn’t been able to say that lately. Just once this season before Sunday, in fact. But Sunday at McKale Center, the final score was 65-56 as the Wildcats snapped a five-game skid and improved a bit from a 1-7 start, the worst at the UA in 33 years.
“It feels amazing, it really does,” said Warthen, who scored a season-high 23 points.
Added Butts: “It obviously feels good to get a win to finally finish down the stretch, get stops down the stretch, and I thought this was a good team win for us.”
Even in losing, for most of the season the Wildcats have played well enough to build up sizable leads, only to see them crumble away late .
Sunday, Arizona took a 12-point lead over the Red Raiders with 16:26 left, and it was still 11 at the 9:56 mark.
In the next 2:49, Texas Tech went on an 11-2 run, narrowing the Wildcats’ lead to 53-51 with 6:51 to go.
“I thought there was a span there where we started to hang our heads a little bit and look dejected,” Butts said, “but we were able to hang tough.”
Carissa Crutchfield hit one free throw, Jones hit two and Warthen had a jumper and a lay-up before Texas Tech scored again.
“We stayed together and we didn’t fold,” Warthen said. “Usually when that happens, we tend to get quiet, everybody’s moody and ‘here we are again’. But today we handled it very well.”
It was thanks in large part to Jones, a freshman, who’s hit free throws down the stretch of games — win or lose — without a hitch.
These two put the Wildcats up by five, putting the nail in Texas Tech’s coffin.
“I mean, I just go to the line and tell myself ‘I’m gonna knock them down’,” Jones said. “I just take my time and shoot ‘em.”
Color Warthen impressed.
“It’s amazing,” she said, laughing. “As a freshman I was never that confident, especially in tight game situations like that, I was always nervous. That’s how it is for most freshmen, but fortunately we have LaBrittney here, so it’s always good.”
Even more impressive was the way she cleaned up the glass for the Wildcats.
Sunday, she had a game- and season-high 15 rebounds, to go with 12 points and three blocks. Freshman Breanna Workman added 11, Warthen eight, and as a team the Wildcats had a season-high 53 rebounds, nine more than Texas Tech.
Oh, and Jones is not even 100 percent.
“I keep waiting for the day when she’s 100 percent healthy, playing on two legs,” Butts said. “What you saw today was on one. I’ve seen her play and leap at a much higher level. That kid is a tough kid. Her heart is as big as anyone we have.”
Jones, from Cedar Hill, Texas, missed her entire senior year of high school with a knee injury and is still recovering.
So, at less than 100 percent, Jones had the highest single-game rebounding total of the season for the UA.
“In other games we’ve just been stopping and giving up after we give up a bucket,” Jones said. “Today, we just kept the mindset that we’re gonna keep going. We’re not going to lose this game today, and that was our mindset the whole game.
“I felt good out there today.”