Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats Survive Scare from Pepperdine, Advance to Face Penn in John Wooden Legacy Semifinals

Nico Mannion’s short bank shot off a length-of-the-court drive with 2.1 seconds left helped No. 14 Arizona escape with a 93-91 win over Pepperdine in a John Wooden Legacy quarterfinal game at Anaheim, Calif., on Thursday night.

Mannion’s game-winner happened after Colbey Ross made a layup with 7 seconds left. Following Mannion’s shot, Ross’ prayer of a shot from midcourt missed.

“This was certainly, nerve-wracking,” said Arizona associate head coach Jack Murphy on the postgame radio show on KCUB 1290-AM. “You can’t draw up a play like that (on Mannion’s shot). It was Nico’s innate ability and his skill. Thank God we have him..”

Although Arizona was favored by 15 points in Las Vegas, there were 24 lead changes and 13 ties in the game.

Arizona (7-0) will play Penn (4-2) in a semifinal game Friday. The Quakers outlasted Central Florida 68-67 on Thursday.

“Penn won big at Provudence and they won at Alabama,” Murphy said. “They beat a good, athletic UCF team here (Thursday). They execute like most Ivy League teams by moving the ball around. The will execute with good-shooting bigs that will test our bigs.

“They are not sleeping shaking in their boots after watching this one. They have to be thinking they can score almost 90 points as well.”

Josh Green led Arizona with 24 points including a 4-of-5 performance from 3-point range and he had eight rebounds (Arizona Athletics photo)

Mannion finished with 16 points and fellow freshmen Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji were standouts. Green had 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Nnaji had 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Dylan Smith, who had 16 points, made three 3-pointers in as many attempts in one stretch to give Arizona an 89-86 lead with 2:38 left in regulation.Skylar Chavez answered with his fifth 3-pointer in the game with 1:39 left.

“Dylan Smith coming through with those 3’s was big for us,” Murphy said. “Josh had his run earlier with 3’s. We needed that. We needed every point we could get.”

Nnaji made a dunk with 19 seconds left to put the Wildcats ahead 91-89. Pepperdine coach Lorenzo Romar, a former Pac-12 rival of Arizona’s at Washington and an assistant with the Wildcats in 2017-18, called timeout before Ross’s layup.

All of Pepperdine’s scoring came from its starters with all scoring in double figures – Kameron Edwards (21), Ross (20), Chavez (20), Jade’ Smith (15) and Kessler Edwards (15). Smith also had nine rebounds and Ross tallied nine assists.

Pepperdine made 13 shots from 3-point range. The Waves made 50.8 percent of their shots from the field.

“Coach Romar is a longtime foe of Arizona with Washington,” Murphy said. “He’s always been a great offensive coach and they brought the offensive firepower tonight.”

Arizona, playing its first game away from McKale Center, was unable to stop Ross and Edwards in the first half.

The Waves went into halftime tied at 42 with Arizona. Ross and Edwards combined to make 9 of 11 shots from the field with Ross leading all scorers with 16 points going 5 of 6 from the field, 2 of 2 from 3-point range and 4 of 4 from the foul line.

Green made three 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to help Arizona build a 65-57 lead with 12:48 left in regulation. His shooting was helped by defenses sagging on Nnaji, Murphy said.

“Zeke had five turnovers. and you would think he did not handle it very well,” Murphy said. “That resulted because of a lot of illegal screens , moving and not being set.

“We got some good looks because of him playing out of the double-team (against him).”

Green scored 10 straight points for the Wildcats in that stretch before teammate Stone Gettings made his first field goal of the game on a shot in the lane. Jemarl Baker then went undefended for the dunk after a steal to add to the 10-0 run giving Arizona a 69-57 lead with 10:33 left.

Pepperdine closed the lead to 69-66 with nine unanswered points that included Chavez making three free throws after he was fouled on a 3-point attempt. Smith made one of two free throws with 8:55 left to cut the lead to three points. It was the first free throw miss of the game for Pepperdine, which finished 18 of 19 from the line.

Arizona struggled from the line making 14 of 24 and the Wildcats committed 17 turnovers.

The Wildcats made up for those shortcomings by making 60.7 percent of their shots from the field, including 11 of 20 from 3-point range.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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