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MN-Magic number to win regular-season title
z-Eliminated from regular-season title contention
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The Arizona Wildcats were pressed to the limit again in their fourth consecutive nail-biter on the road, surviving this time with a 67-63 overtime win over a pesky Utah team in front of 14,266 at the Huntsman Center.
The Utes were 16-1 at home entering the game, with the lone loss an overtime affair against Oregon in the Pac-12 opener Jan. 2. Arizona was forced to play the last 8:41 of regulation and the overtime period without star freshman Aaron Gordon, who fouled out of his first game with the Wildcats.
Gordon, who finished with a season-low three points, was called for his fifth foul when he ran over a stationary Utah player. Utah coach Larry Krystowiak targeted Gordon with the screens and called for his players to attack Gordon to the basket, drawing the fouls.
“I told Aaron we were going to win the game for him,” Nick Johnson told Fox Sports after the game. “He had a rough game. We tried to grind it out.”
The Wildcats led 48-44 when Gordon took a seat on the bench. They built the lead to 52-44 on a layup by T.J. McConnell with 7:05 remaining in regulation.
Utah proceeded to score nine consecutive points to take a 53-52 lead with 3:40 remaining. That’s when it looked the most bleak for the Wildcats, who before tonight in their previous four road games won at Stanford in the last minute and lost in the last seconds to Cal and ASU.
Johnson, mired in a recent cold-shooting stretch of 15-of-60 from the field entering the game, responded with two crucial jump shots in the last 3:28 of regulation to keep the Wildcats in step with Utah. Johnson and Gabe York, making his second start of the season, led the Wildcats with 15 points apiece.
After Utah’s Jordan Loveridge made one of two free throw attempts with 28 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 56, T.J. McConnell had a chance to give Arizona the win at the buzzer. His driving shot bounced off the back of the rim and the game went into overtime.
It was the first time since the 1985-86 season that Arizona was forced into consecutive games with overtime periods. The Wildcats lost to ASU 69-66 in double-overtime Friday.
Sean Miller on postgame radio: 'Every game is a battle because of the way we struggle to score. Our defense has to keep us in.'
The Wildcats pulled away behind the play of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who once again filled the Sixth Man role for Sean Miller. Hollis-Jefferson scored six of his 13 points and Johnson went 4 of 5 from the free-throw line in overtime. He made his last four free throw attempts.
“Rondae had a huge game for us in overtime,” Johnson told Hollis-Jefferson, who made only his second three-pointer of the season in the first half.
McConnell, a 59.4 percent free throw shooter this season, made 1 of 2 from the line with five seconds left to give Arizona a 65-62 lead.
Miller called for the Wildcats to foul Brandon Taylor to send the sophomore guard to the line rather than allow a game-tying three-point attempt. Taylor, an 86 percent shooter from the line, missed three straight free throw attempts earlier in overtime when he was fouled on a three-point attempt by McConnell.
Taylor missed the first free throw and made the second to cut the lead to 65-63 with two seconds left. Johnson was immediately fouled and made two game-clinching free throws.
“It’s really important,” Johnson told Fox about the victory. “Our goal is to get a road sweep. That’s what we call it. We got the first game of the road trip. You have to give Utah credit. In my freshman and sophomore year, (the crowd atmosphere) was not like this.”
Johnson was also clutch on the defensive end, limiting Loveridge, who was averaging 15.6 points a game, to 1 of 12 shooting from the field. Loveridge finished with only seven points.
York broke out of a recent shooting slump finishing 6 of 10 from the field after making his first four shots. He made 3 of 6 from three-point range after missing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc against the Utes at McKale last month.
With the victory, the fourth-ranked Wildcats (24-2 overall and 11-2 in the Pac-12) reduced their magic number to win the regular season Pac-12 title. UCLA remains a game behind Arizona in the loss column with a 10-3 record, but the Bruins lost their only matchup with Arizona at Pauley Pavilion earlier this season.