RALEIGH, N.C. - The Arizona Wildcats quickly boarded a rare charter plane home Sunday, but you could hardly blame them for wanting to stick around awhile.
The Wildcats, after all, had just made themselves at home in the hub of college basketball, pulling out a 72-62 win over North Carolina State at the RBC Center and improving to 10-2.
They did so before a national Fox Sports Net audience, showcasing their emerging program and the sparkling offensive talent of forward Derrick Williams, who willed his way to the free-throw line 11 times while scoring 22 points.
In what was their most significant win of the season, the Wildcats may have also begun positioning themselves for a potential NCAA tournament case in a few months.
"Anytime you visit this part of the country and a conference that's as respected as the ACC, and leave with the win, it's a great feeling," UA coach Sean Miller said. "We have a developing team, a younger group, and this was really a great win. We had good play from a lot of players."
The Wildcats not only received 22 points from Williams, who made 6 of 9 from the field and 10 of 11 from the line, but also 11 points from Kevin Parrom and a career-high 10 from Jesse Perry.
But under the surface, there were a few cracks. Arizona made only 4 of 16 three-point attempts, surviving mostly by going inside against the primarily man-to-man Wolfpack, and the Wildcats were out-rebounded 45-31.
N.C. State collected 23 offensive rebounds, but it had just 19 second-chance points from them. Overall, the Wolfpack shot just 30.8 percent from inside the three-point line.
"We missed a lot of easy shots," N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe said. "Our guys did a great job on the offensive boards but we just missed them. They didn't block the shots. We just missed."
N.C. State's failure to capitalize didn't make Miller feel much better. Not with a team that had not been out-rebounded until Dec. 11 when BYU held a 38-34 edge in the Cougars' 87-65 win in Salt Lake City.
"One of the things we really have to solve" is rebounding, Miller said. "We've been an excellent rebounding team through the first 10 games. I don't mean just against certain teams. We've been very consistent. … But we've lost that. We're not a big team and we have to do it with our guards and blocking out.
"They really took advantage of us on the glass. For a while there I didn't know if we could finish the game and win because we didn't get a stop or rebound."
The Wildcats never trailed after the first seven minutes, but the Wolfpack twice cut their lead to four points early in the second half, then trailed just 45-42 when C.J. Williams made a layup with 12:40 to go. But the Wildcats found Parrom in the corner for a three-pointer to give them a 48-42 lead, and they used a 10-0 run immediately after N.C. State later cut it to 52-50.
"They had a couple of four-point runs but it was our job to stop that and keep their crowd out of it," Williams said.
Williams took care of the crowd himself on one occasion, arching backward to catch a slightly errant alley-oop pass from MoMo Jones and slamming it down for a dunk to make it 56-50.
Kyle Fogg, with a three-pointer, and Perry, with two free throws and a layup, also helped key the run.
"Beyond Derrick, we got contributions from a lot of guys," Miller said. "We had a number of guys play well."
It was a far different scene than the Wildcats put together in their last venture away from McKale Center, when they were all but destroyed by BYU. While they sputtered early in a 63-58 win over NAU on Thursday, the Wildcats played well after halftime in that game and carried the momentum into Sunday.
"The chemistry is really what we've been focusing on," Perry said. "Finding ourselves a lot after the BYU loss, that's what we've been doing."
Now, the re-energized Wildcats have just one more nonconference game, on Wednesday against Robert Morris, before they can take a short break over Christmas and return to face Oregon and Oregon State in the first week of Pac-10 play.
The NCAA tournament is still a long way away, but, by winning Sunday, the Wildcats have at least put themselves on track to make an argument for getting back there after a one-year absence.
"I don't want to put the cart too far ahead because we made our mind up in the fall to really stay locked in on becoming better at what we do," Miller said.
"From where we were two springs ago at Arizona, we have to win and it doesn't happen all at once, but I do feel we've made a lot of progress not just in the games but off the court as well. We'll see where the results take us to. But being 10-2 is a good feeling."
• Who: Robert Morris at Arizona
• When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
• TV: FSAZ, Channel 58
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)