Men's Pac-10 tournament: Washington 77, Arizona 75, OT: Trouble closing it out

Huskies' late comeback could put bite on UA's hopes for higher seed
2011-03-13T00:00:00Z 2014-07-24T10:01:18Z Men's Pac-10 tournament: Washington 77, Arizona 75, OT: Trouble closing it outBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 13, 2011 12:00 am  • 

LOS ANGELES - There were reasons the Washington Huskies were picked to win the Pac-10 title back in November and, for much of the season, Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller sounded like a guy who wouldn't disagree.

The Huskies, who beat Arizona 77-75 in overtime of the Pac-10 tournament championship game Saturday, were deep and experienced, with a point guard in Isaiah Thomas that Miller proclaimed one of the nation's best in January.

The Wildcats were relatively inexperienced, without a proven point guard. They were also, in Miller's frequent words, "immature," incapable of putting away teams in late-game situations.

All of those issues surfaced Saturday at Staples Center, when Arizona gave up a four-point lead with 26 seconds left in regulation and watched as Thomas sank a 20-footer at the overtime buzzer to give the Huskies their second straight Pac-10 tournament title.

"This year's team, despite our great success, has never been very good at" closing out games, Miller said. "Tonight was the ultimate reason for why you have to finish and be responsible. You keep playing all the way to the end."

The loss dropped Arizona to 27-7 entering Selection Sunday, when the Wildcats are expected to receive an NCAA tournament seed in the 4-7 range.

Washington improved to 23-10, having boosted its case for a better tournament seed in part by beating the Wildcats two out of three times this season. It was the second straight year the Huskies had defeated the regular-season champ to win the conference tournament, after doing the same to California last season.

Thomas, playing all 45 minutes, picked up his second straight Most Outstanding Player award, too, while Derrick Williams was the only Wildcat placed on the all-tournament team.

Thomas was just as annoying as he was on Jan. 20 in Seattle, when he dominated the Wildcats with 22 points and 10 assists in the Huskies' 85-68 victory, getting 19 points in the first half this time, with 28 points, seven assists and five rebounds overall.

"Sometimes at this time of year, it's that special player making those huge plays," Miller said. "He did it and he had some help as well."

Indeed, the Huskies won Saturday when Thomas' heroics were complemented by other big shots, with Washington getting threes from Thomas and two other players in the final 33 seconds to tie the game in regulation.

The one that steamed Miller the most was the final shot, when Thomas drove inside and dished to C.J. Wilcox in the corner with seven seconds left and Wilcox sank in a three-pointer.

UA forward Kevin Parrom, like so many other players have this season, was sucked into the lane by Thomas' presence, leaving Wilcox with a better look at the basket.

"I just slacked off the concentration level," Parrom said. "I went to Isaiah Thomas and he kicked out to a teammate who made a big shot. I take full responsibility for that. But he's a great point guard he drove in, and made me come to him."

Miller said there were plenty of other mistakes besides Parrom's to worry about, but the play gnawed away at him because it should have been automatic for the Wildcats not to drop in below the three-point line when leading by three points with less than 10 seconds left.

The Huskies actually had 14 seconds to run off a final play, after MoMo Jones hit a pair of free throws to give UA a 68-65 lead, but Miller said that was too much time to foul before the shot.

Only within 11 seconds or less, Miller said, is it wise to foul in that situation.

"You can play that a lot of different ways," Miller said. "If you do start fouling on purpose with that much time, you can go through a lot of scenarios."

Parrom had helped the Wildcats to the brink of victory, having broken Washington's press with 26 seconds left, then fired a 30-foot pass to Williams, who scored inside on a three-point play to make it 66-62 with 26.8 seconds left.

But Terrence Ross hit a three in the corner with 17.2 seconds left to cut the UA lead again to a point before Jones hit his free throws, leading to Washington's final basket in regulation.

In overtime, Parrom nearly made up for his defensive error, with a three-pointer to tie it at 75-75, and 21 seconds left. But Thomas milked the clock down to the final second before he stepped back away from Jones and sank a 20-footer to win the game.

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar "trusted me," Thomas said. "I knew I had a smaller guy on me, so I could get a shot off."

Thomas' final dagger snapped what was a four-game winning streak for the Wildcats, who now enter Selection Sunday with the possibility of being sent nearly anywhere in the NCAA tournament.

Had they won and earned a seed as high as No. 4, it was more likely they might have received a more favorable placement from the NCAA selection committee.

"There's always consequences," Miller said of the loss.

But, with all that aside, Miller knows this: The Wildcats still managed to win the Pac-10 regular season title despite their weaknesses, and, with the exception of their regular-season losses at USC and UCLA two weeks ago, they were mostly on an upward arc the entire way.

"I'm also not going to make too big a deal of it," Miller said. "I thought our guys played hard and we're moving into the NCAA tournament with 27 wins. It's part of our journey."

 

Where Cats stand

27-7

Arizona's overall record

4 to 7

Range of UA's expected seed in an NCAA tournament bracket

Today

• What: NCAA men's tournament selection show

• When: 3 p.m. on Ch 13

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