The second-ranked Arizona Wildcats escaped one of their most frustrating performances, most notably at the free-throw line, to survive against Oregon 67-65 Thursday night at McKale Center.
Arizona, playing its first game without starting forward Brandon Ashley, did not allow Oregon to score for more than three minutes late in the game and Nick Johnson bucked the negative free-throw shooting trend making 5-of-6 in the last minute.
Freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson recorded a double-double in place of Ashley in the starting lineup. Hollis-Jefferson and the Wildcats (22-1) were able to overcome a 19-of-35 free throw shooting performance.
“It was about will and determination,” said Miller, who at halftime challenged Arizona’s toughness, telling ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that Oregon’s rebounding performance against Arizona was “like men against boys.”
Oregon out-rebounded Arizona 40-35 but beyond the stats was the injury storyline extending from Ashley to Aaron Gordon and T.J. McConnell.
Arizona followers held their breath when Gordon was taken to the locker room with about 7 minutes remaining to check on an ankle injury. He returned shortly thereafter with a mild ankle sprain.
McConnell grimaced in pain at the end, holding his back.
Arizona’s 9-0 clinching run late was capped by two free throws by Johnson, giving the Wildcats a 64-60 lead with 47 seconds left.
Dominic Artis converted on a layup on the other end to cut the lead to 64-62 with 41 seconds remaining. The basket was Oregon’s first since a Richard Amardi jumper put the Ducks ahead 60-55 with 3:52 left.
After Johnson made another two free throws with 31 seconds left to put Arizona ahead 66-62, Artis and Jason Calliste missed three straight free throws before before Calliste converted to cut the lead to 66-63 with 16 seconds left. Johnson made 1 of 2 free-throw attempts before a wild sequence of two turnovers (one by Arizona) and two missed Oregon jumpers resulted in a late tip-in by Artis that closed the scoring.
The Arizona Wildcats looked like they would go from a No. 1 ranking and a school-record 21-game winning streak to losing consecutive games before the escape. Arizona improves to 9-1 in the Pac-12, leading second-place UCLA (6-3) by 2 1/2 games.
Oregon’s NCAA tournament hopes took a hit with the loss as the Ducks are 3-7 in the conference and 15-7 overall.