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Coleman Saves Christmas: 'Cats end non-conference play with nail-biting victory over UC Davis

Arizona men's basketball was back and forth in the lead against UC Davis during the second half, but managed to hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute.

With just three days left before Christmas, visiting UC Davis was trying to be the lump of coal in Arizona’s stocking to close out non-conference play. 

A Justin Coleman 3-pointer sent Arizona fans away with a little extra holiday cheer, putting the ‘Cats up for good with one minute left and being the deciding factor in a nail-biting 70-68 victory.

“My teammates believed in me, my coaches believed in me, and I believed in myself as well,” Coleman said. “I decided to take the shot, and I made it.”

Arizona lead by 11 to start the second half, but UC Davis started the half on an 18-7 run and kept the game close until the final buzzer. The Aggies had a chance to tie or take the lead on the final possession, but a desperation 3-pointer was air balled. 

The Wildcats finish the non-conference schedule 9-4 and remain in the conversation for competing for a Pac-12 Title.

To begin the game, Arizona got out to a hot start, hitting eight of their first nine field goals, but the Mustangs hung in the game thanks to the play of TJ Shorts II. Shorts, the returning Big West Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year, had eight of the first 13 points for UC Davis.

Arizona's Brandon Williams (2) goes up for the lay-up during the first half of the Arizona-UC Davis game on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

The ‘Cats took their biggest lead of the first half at 34-19 on an Emmanuel Akot layup with 6:13 left to go, looking like they were going to give fans who have been used to nail biters at home as of late a break. Shorts added four more points to end the half, putting the Mustangs within striking distance at 41-30 going into halftime. 

The Mustangs came out red hot in the second half, using an 18-7 run early on to tie things up at 48. Arizona was forced to use its bench early, with Coleman and Chase Jeter each picking up their fourth foul, and Brandon Randolph picking up his third. 

In a second half that featured 18 ties and four lead changes, UC Davis was finally able to take the lead with 5:14 left on a layup by Shorts. Randolph hit two free throws to tie the game, before another Shorts layup with 3:35 put the Mustangs up again. 

Arizona took the lead on two free throws by Jeter, but the ‘Cats once again had no answer for Shorts, who gave UC Davis their last lead of the game at 68-67 with 1:37 left. The junior finished with 25 points on 10-15 shooting on the night, constantly giving Arizona problems with his ability to penetrate its defense.

Arizona's Justin Coleman (12) makes a tough pass during the Arizona-UC Davis game on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Despite a quiet night offensively that saw him only score one point before the shot, Coleman showed why his was named a team captain this season, nailing the go-ahead bucket.

Sean Miller said postgame that while Coleman might not be scoring like he was early in the season, he likes what he has seen from the senior.

“We want him to be aggressive,” Miller said. “He does such a great job of getting in the lane and making people better. Sometimes, taking his own open shot and mixing that in could help him and our team.”

Jeter finished with 16 points, while Randolph finished with 15 in another game that saw the two pace the ‘Cats in scoring. No other Wildcat scored in double figures, a statistic that will have to change sooner rather than later for the ‘Cats against tougher competition. 

“What could be our best record and what could be our worst record, we’re probably somewhere in between,” Miller said postgame of his thoughts on how the non-conference schedule has shaken out. “I think for us, it’s about getting better and learning, and being the best team we can be. We do not have a lot of room for error.”

The ‘Cats get a 12-day break before their next game, as they open conference play against the visiting Colorado Buffaloes at McKale Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 3, on Fox Sports 1.

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