James Akinjo insisted not once but twice his last-second heave to the basket wasn’t a shot but a lob to give an open Azuolus Tubelis a chance at a shot.
If that was the case, well it was perfect. When told that’s what Akinjo said UA coach Sean Miller almost smirked.
The official scorekeeper will also have to revisit the replay given what Akinjo said. It was a pass and not a shot like the game officials listed it as.
Whatever the case, it worked for Arizona in its 84-82 last-second win over Arizona State in Tempe on Thursday night.
When Tubelis hit his first-game winner ever (according to him) UA’s bench – including coach Jason Terry – ran around like they had won something big. Hell, they did, winning for the first time in Tempe since 2018.
“I pushed it, I looked up to see the clock and saw Azuolus running by himself so I tried to make a good move and I didn’t want to throw a lollygag lob so I tried to fake like I was shooting so I threw a lob to Zoo,” said Akinjo, who had a game-high 24 points.
So, it was a lob and not a pass … for the win. It was ESPN’s third-best play of the day.
And, well, might as well be the biggest win of the season for Arizona.
“I feel amazing because it’s my first game winner,” Tubelis said. “I saw the ball coming short, so I caught it and finished.”
And it finished the Sun Devils, a team still trying to find its groove after being picked to finish atop the Pac-12 Conference standings. Instead, it’s near the bottom and Arizona continues to stay mid-Pac.
It took a 7-0 to end the game to get the win, on a night when the defense had more lapses than not. But it was there when it counted at the end.
“We had two minutes so that’s a lot (of time) for us,” said Tubelis, who had a key block seconds before UA had its last chance and his final heroics.
Tubelis, who struggled with zero points in the first half, finished with eight in the second.
Miller said Tubelis was “not himself in the first half” and the game “might have caught Azuolus by surprise” – but he recovered.
“From about the 15-minute mark to the end of the game, he really became himself,” he said. “Then came the offensive rebound or whatever it was that was a huge play.”
Miller called it a “great, great game” saying the team won because of its hard-working habits to make it happen.
“Our defense isn’t as good as our offense,” Miller said. “We’re hard at work to make it better. It has to get better, but sometimes you just have to figure out a way to get a win almost in spite of your defense.”
He said ASU “had their way with us” in the second half specially, but UA eventually found a way.
Lob, shot or whatever that was.
Miller said the plan is to get a shot and if you get a second shot “that’s even better.”
“We trust James (so) if it was a pass it was a heck of a pass,” Miller said. “If it was a shot it’s still one heck of a pass. Azuolus, give him credit for being there and making it. Some people miss that. He made it.”
Arizona will have four days to get ready before ASU goes to Tucson to get revenge. Heck, Arizona has taken much better teams into Tempe and come away a loser. Now comes this team, a work in progress that found a way to win.
“Arizona at ASU is a challenge, it really is,” Miller said. “We’re thrilled to win it. We’ve lost a couple of games here exactly how we won tonight. Over time it has a way of evening out.”