One of Josh Pastner's assistant coaches held aloft a sign that said "BOX." It pretty much described the situation Arizona found itself in all afternoon. Boxed in, boxed out, boxed up.
The game was tied at 68 as the clock dipped under 1:40. On the UA bench, reserve guard Daniel Bejarano covered his face with a towel, too nervous to watch.
To the Memphis Tigers, "BOX" is a code instructing them to surround Derrick Williams and hope that no one else in an Arizona uniform has the guts to take a shot or, lacking that, the ability to make it.
"In these first-round games, crazy things happen," said UA forward Jamelle Horne. "You just don't want them to happen to you."
That's the way Memphis played Friday. The Tigers tried some crazy stuff, defensive schemes they hadn't used all year. And it was working.
"We went to a box-and-one on Derrick," Pastner said after the game. "We went 2-3 zone, we went to a triangle-and-two, and three or four different defenses."
This time the boy-who-became-a-coach was brilliant. After Arizona took a 48-40 lead, the BOX and the TRIANGLE and the ZONE and all the other variations worked so well that Memphis outscored the Wildcats 25-13, assuming a 65-61 lead, a troubling stretch in which Williams was scoreless.
"In that situation, you need to have no fear," said UA guard Kyle Fogg.
Introducing Mr. Fearless: Tied at 68, as the shot clock ticked to 12, UA guard MoMo Jones got the ball and exhaled. He didn't look for Williams. He didn't look for anybody. MoMo was going to take the most important shot of Arizona's basketball season; Pastner couldn't have suspected it, and nobody was going to stop it.
"It usually depends on the moment," said UA forward Kevin Parrom. "Usually, MoMo likes to capture that moment."
With a hand in his face and the season on his back, MoMo Jones hit the three-pointer, a one-bouncer off the backboard, giving Arizona a 71-68 lead with 1:36 remaining. Arizona did not trail again.
On a day that the Wildcats fell behind 10-1, coughed and sputtered and appeared destined for the indignity of a one-and-done finish in the NCAA tournament, they found a way to win precisely the way they found a way to lose to Washington in the Pac-10 tournament championship game.
"You take it any way you can get it," UA forward Solomon Hill said after a stressful afternoon at the BOK Center, winning 77-75. "Coach (Sean) Miller said he was happy we're moving on and to forget how badly we played."
Jones' three-pointer won't be cherished or remembered the way Salim Stoudamire's pull-up jumper beating Oklahoma State in the 2005 Sweet 16 was, but it qualifies as one of the most clutch shots in UA tournament history.
Miller said: "He is the ultimate player in the sense that he has great belief in himself. He's that player who can kind of take a licking and just keep on going."
This is getting to be repetitive. Mr. Fearless beat Stanford with a buzzer-shot last year, and he enabled the Wildcats to beat Cal in triple-overtime with an assortment of late-game buckets last month, among other MoMo-to-the-rescue moments.
"In that situation, I always want the ball in my hands," he said. "I want it real bad. That was a shot that needed to be hit."
Friday's game was the type of walk-along-the-ledge that the Wildcats so often lost in first-round NCAA games over the last-quarter century. It had the feel of a 1992 East Tennessee State exit, the awkwardness of a 1999 loss to Oklahoma and the lapses of a 2007 setback against Purdue, all when favored UA teams started slowly, got in foul trouble and didn't recover.
If nothing else, Friday's rally signals a new era of tournament basketball at Arizona. Lute Olson didn't win his first NCAA game until his fifth season in Tucson. Miller has avoided inheriting that baggage.
"As exciting as it is to be a part of the NCAA tournament, it's a thousandfold more exciting to be able to advance," said Miller. "It's not the style points that you get, but being able to finish the job and make big plays when they count the most."
Did you realize there were two air balls and four traveling calls in the chaos of the final four minutes? It was an inelegant game, but it counted the same as any of the previous 16 first-round victories in UA history.
Four times in the final 2:11 Friday, Arizona was under extreme duress just to inbound the ball safely. Had it made one more mistake, one more error of any type, the Wildcats would have been home for the weekend.
In the end, MoMo's three-pointer erased all of the mistakes.
"That's the shot I've taken all my life," he said. "It won't be the last time, either."
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org