Arizona narrowly edges Utah 84-81 in overtime thriller
Classic game at McKale Center
Sean Miller exhaled and called the 84-81 overtime nail-biter one of the best victories he’s had at McKale during his time at Arizona.
“Just because how hard the game is and how easily it could have gone towards Utah,” he said.
He’s right. Utah could have – and probably should have – won the game.
The Utes had two separate opportunities with the clock heading to triple zeros to pull out a win. All Miller could do was watch from the sidelines, but his players didn’t flinch.
“These are the games that we all signed up for when we come to Arizona,” Chase Jeter said.
In the final seconds of overtime, Utah’s Parker Van Dyke missed a 3-pointer with the hand of Emmanuel Akot in his face that would have given the Utes a two-point lead, and Arizona recovered the rebound. Brandon Randolph promptly hit two free throws to help give Arizona its second Pac-12 victory of the year. The sophomore scored 6 of his 21 points in OT.
The Utes had another opportunity at the end of regulation with the score deadlocked at 72-72, but the Wildcats forced a turnover as they clogged the paint with Timmy Allen losing control of the ball while driving the basket.
Arizona had its own chance to win the game with 5.3 second left in regulation as Justin Coleman ran nearly the length of the court and heaved up a deep 3-pointer clanked off the front iron of the rim as time expired.
Instead of a buzzer-beater, the Wildcats grinded out a win in OT.
The extra five minutes was almost not enough to settle the back-and-back battle where both teams traded baskets and free throws. Arizona took an 78-74 lead with three minutes to go in OT, but Utah wouldn’t go away and answered with a Van Dyke 3-pointer, putting Utah within one.
After UA freshman Brandon Williams hit a pair of free throws, Utah’s Donnie Tillman converted a three-point play off a layup and a defensive foul to give Utah an 81-80 lead with 1:12 left.
That’s when Randolph made up for his offensive trouble (7-19 FG) on the night and drove down the court, weaving between defenders, to put the Wildcats up 82-81.
“My teammates told me to keep my confidence up and don’t worry about my struggles,” Randolph said.
The win keeps Arizona unbeaten in the first weekend of Pac-12 play and improves UA’s home record to 14-0 under Miller when Utah and Colorado visit McKale.
The Wildcats got contributions from several other players including center Chase Jeter who tied his career high of 21 points and posted a double-double as well with 13 rebounds. Dylan Smith came off the bench and added 11 points on a perfect 4-4 shooting, 3-3 from beyond the arc.
Justin Coleman got the start at point guard after coming off the bench in Thursday’s win against Utah due to a dislocated shoulder. Miller said the senior point guard is at 80 percent of what his normal health level would be, but trusted Coleman could still play an important role this weekend.
Miller said that he opted to go with Coleman for the final shot of regulation because of his experience even though it was clear the point guard was limited.
“On that last play of regulation, I didn’t think he was himself,” Miller said “In 5.3 seconds he had five dribbles and he slowed up a little bit… in hindsight I probably needed to give the ball to somebody else.”
Utah’s Sedrick Barefield almost took the win away from Arizona by himself as he scored a game-high 26 point on an impressive 10-17 from the field and 5-9 from 3-point range. However, Arizona’s guards were able to attack Barefield off the dribble while he was on defense and eventually forced the electric guard out of the game with 1:44 remaining in regulation.
“Fouling him out really changed the game down the stretched,” Miller said. “And overtime, playing without him is a different task.”
The last time a game went to overtime in McKale Center, it was a highly-anticipated battle between top-10 teams No. 3 Arizona and No. 9 Gonzaga. A defensive struggle in which the Wildcats won 66-63.
Defenses struggled to contain each other this time around in the unranked clash between Arizona and Utah, but the Wildcats prevailed with timely offense and key defensive stops in a thriller that’s only just the beginning of trying to make the NCAA Tournament.
“To be able to have that toughness and the will and the fight from everybody to close that game out in overtime was big for us,” Jeter said. “It’s the best thing any player on this squad could ask for.”
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