Arizona got exactly what it needed on Saturday afternoon in McKale Center – a win in what Arizona coach Sean Miller called a “great college basketball game” against Utah.
Clearly, it was no Saturday stroll for the Wildcats, although it has never lost to Utah in the Pac-12.
“Somebody had to win, somebody had to lose,” Miller said.
Heck, otherwise, we’d still be watching the game. As it was, it took overtime to determine the winner in game that was much like last years in that it took every second to determine the winner.
On Saturday, Arizona (11-4) prevailed 84-81 to go 2-0 in the conference, one where the winner of it could lose as many as six games. It’ll be that kind of wacky season for UA and the conference.
“Those are the types of games we all sign up for when we come to Arizona,” said UA’s Chase Jeter when asked about playing in a game where it was close throughout. By the way, he led UA with 21 points. “To be able to have that toughness, will and fight from everybody to close that win in overtime was big for us. That’s the best thing a player can ask for from this squad especially.”
Because every game will be an adventure in what already has been scratch-your-head season. Hasn’t it been one already? Heck, Arizona was on the verge of losing a second game at home.
It was a game where every shot, free throw, turnover, player, mattered. The latter – the player – mattered perhaps the most. Even Miller acknowledged it when Utah guard Sedrick Barefield committed his fifth foul with more than seven minutes left in regulation.
“I thought we did a really good job of attacking him when he had three and four fouls,” Miller said. “It’s one thing to do it and another to accomplish it. Fouling him out really changed the game down the stretch and into overtime.”
Until then, Arizona had no answer for the sharp-shooting guard who had 25 points. Had he continued, Miller said, Barefield would have had more than 30.
But with Barefield out, Arizona found a way – even if it bumbled and stumbled to the finish line. Miller said Arizona blew assignments and seemingly every time Utah found a way to get points.
But it was Arizona’s effort down the stretch that made the difference and a shot by Parker Van Dyke that rimmed in and out that proved to be the difference.
“It’s certainly one of the best victories we’ve had here in McKale in my time,” Miller said.
Wow. And he wasn’t just waxing poetic because every win for Arizona will seem monumental – especially at home.
Figure that if teams can’t win at home it’ll be Armageddon-like. Miller brought up the formula that has stayed true all these years – including the Pac-10 days – where if you win at home and at least split on the road you’ll have a chance at a nice season and perhaps a good postseason.
“I know how hard it is to win on the road, and I think it’s going to be hard to win at home, too,” he said, with a grin.
That grin spoke volumes. He knew he escaped what would have been a disaster of a loss.
But Arizona did find a way, despite Justin Coleman going 1 for 8 and Randolph going 1 of 9 from the 3-point line. Miller did say that Coleman is still just about 80 percent healthy after suffering a dislocated shoulder earlier in the week. He added that he had second thoughts on having Coleman take the last shot in regulation given his performance to that point.
Still, Miller called it a good sign in as much his team found a way to win despite two offensive players playing so, well, unproductively on offense.
“For us to still score 84 points and have the opportunity to win is good,” Miller said. “We weren’t at our best for the entire game. This is not the best we can play.”
Arizona did get nice sprinkles from Ryan Luther and Dylan Smith who combined for a 6-for-6 day, hitting five treys between them.
“We’re going to win as a team and lose as a team,” Miller said. “I don’t think we’re going to be the product of a great individual performance. That’s a challenge we can continue to grow and improve and stay cohesive. And if that’s the case we will have many good moments over the last couple of months.”