Buzzer-beater by Tubelis adds to Arizona’s limited final-second winning shots against ASU

Dateline Tempe, Jan. 11, 1969: “A clutch shot by Jim Hansen with three seconds left to play gave Arizona an 81-80 victory over Arizona State … This is only the second time since 1957 that Arizona has won a basketball game on the Arizona State court.” — Abe Chanin, Arizona Daily Star

Dateline Tucson, Nov. 26, 1976: “It wasn’t decided until 6-foot-4 junior Tim Marshall, who had started but sat on the bench much of the game, drove across the key and laid a two-foot shot in the basket with two seconds left on the clock (in Arizona’s 92-91 overtime win over ASU).” — Bruce Johnston, Tucson Citizen

Dateline Tempe, Nov. 26, 1977: “Sophomore Joe Nehls hit a 20-foot jump shot with four seconds left to give Arizona a 72-70 victory over Arizona State in the 1977-78 college basketball opener for both teams.” — Dave Adam, Arizona Daily Star

Joe Nehls (Tucson Citizen file photo)

Dateline Tempe, Feb. 17, 1984: “Arizona forward Eddie Smith made a basket at the buzzer to defeat archrival Arizona State, 65-64, in front of an announced crowd of 6,716 at the University Activity Center. … The victory gives Arizona its first season sweep of ASU since the 1969-70 season.” — Bob Moran, Arizona Daily Star

Dateline Tempe, Jan. 5, 1985: “ASU was ahead by two when Eddie Smith drove toward the basket, was clobbered by Bobby Thompson and put up the ball in more of a scooping than shooting motion. Smith went down, the ball went up, and in, and so did Smith’s foul shot after he picked himself up. All this with four seconds to go. Arizona 61, ASU 60. That’s how it ended.” — Bob Cohn, Arizona Republic

Dateline Tempe, March 5, 2005: “When Arizona guard Salim Stoudamire pulled up for an 11-foot jumper with 0.6 seconds left to give Arizona a 70-68 victory over ASU at Wells Fargo Arena, his coach (Lute Olson) gained both his 11th Pac-10 championship and the conference’s all-time victory record with 305.” — Bruce Pascoe, Arizona Daily Star

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Dateline Tempe, Jan. 21, 2021: “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 Azuolas 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. Almost. 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. 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.” — Steve Rivera, AllSportsTucson.com

Research of newspaper archives indicates that in Arizona’s 107-year, 239-game basketball series with the Sun Devils, the Wildcats have defeated their rivals seven times with a shot occurring with 5 seconds or less.

Tubelis’ tip-in of Akinjo’s airball (or perhaps pass) was only the third time Arizona has beaten ASU with a shot at the buzzer.

Stoudamire made the previous buzzer-beater 15 years ago. Smith’s shot in 1984 was the first one of those.

Brock Brunkhorst got the ball near the scorer’s table, dribbled a couple of times, and passed to Smith. “(Assistant) Coach (Scott) Thompson told me during the timeout that we could get the ball inside,” Smith said. “I was surprised we got the ball low so easily. I double-pumped because I thought the big guy (Jim Deines) might try and block it, but he let me go.” As the buzzer sounded, the ball bounced around the rim, then fell through the net. — Moran

Eddie Smith (Arizona Athletics photo)

Smith became an ASU killer again the very next year (1985) in Tempe in what was one of the most miraculous performances in Arizona basketball history.

(Smith’s shot) climaxed an amazing comeback in front of a University Activity Center crowd of 8,251. The Cats trailed by seven points, 60-53, with 39 seconds to go. “Realistically,” UA guard Steve Kerr said, “there’s no way we should have won.” … Olson said, “ASU flat outplayed us, but we outlucked them.” — Cohn.

After Smith converted a 3-point play to cut ASU’s lead to 60-56, Thompson missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw situation with 19 seconds left. Morgan Taylor nailed a 17-footer with 11 seconds left to cut the lead to 60-58. Steve Beck inbounded the ball to Thompson, whose pass upcourt was deflected by Pete Williams to Smith in the lane. Smith went to the basket and was fouled by Thompson while making his scooping shot. His free throw put Arizona ahead 61-60 with four seconds left. Chris Sandle’s 25-foot attempt at the buzzer for ASU fell short and Arizona’s players — and Olson — celebrated briefly on the court.

Six of the seven wins over ASU in the waning seconds have taken place in Tempe. That’s mostly because Arizona, which has a 154-85 series lead, has won most of its games without drama in Tucson at either Bear Down Gym or McKale Center.

Tim Marshall (Arizona Athletics photo)

The lone thriller with the clock winding down in Tucson was Marshall’s shot that beat ASU in overtime in 1976. The game was played in November because at that time, Arizona and ASU played three times in a season — the opener and the two meetings in the WAC.

“I just closed my eyes and threw it up,” Marshall said. “I knew if I missed it that Phil Taylor was going to tip it in and I wasn’t going to worry about it. Then Marshall pointed toward teammate Herman Harris. “There goes the story, No. 24, he didn’t miss,” Marshall said. — Johnston.

Harris hit 15 of 25 shots from beyond 20 feet, according to Johnston’s report, and finished with 34 points and five assists in the full 45 minutes. Taylor finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds.

The very next year — on the same day, Nov. 26 — in the opener at Tempe, Nehls became a Sun Devil slayer in the final seconds.

Nehls’ game-winner capped a furious Arizona comeback that saw the Wildcats erase a 13-point deficit in the final six minutes. “I had no concept of the clock,” Nehls said of his baseline jumper from the left side. “I knew there was enough time. I wasn’t thinking negative.” — Adam.

An ASU turnover resulted in Harris making an 8-foot bankshot to tie the game at 70 with 25 seconds left. The Sun Devils turned the ball over again when an errant pass landed into the hands of Arizona guard Russell Brown.

After a timeout, the Cats worked the clock down before Nehls hit the shot that sent the sizable number of UA fans into a frenzy. — Adam.

Arizona Daily Star clipping of Jim Hansen’s winning shot against ASU in 1969

More than 51 years ago, Arizona won its first game against ASU following a heroic shot toward the end — Hansen’s bucket — that occurred after a frenzied sequence in Tempe.

Arizona State controlled the ball with 23 seconds left but John Harbour fouled Ron Johnson and the Sun Devil missed the free throw. Harbour tied up the ball with Gerhard Schreur and with 10 seconds left, Harbour gave it the big effort and knocked the ball to Hansen. Hansen drove down the court and flipped the ball through the net with three seconds to play. — Chanin.

The most frenzied atmosphere in these seven games occurred in 2005 when Stoudamire made the game-winner in front of a soldout arena in Tempe with a balanced mix of Arizona and ASU fans.

Stoudamire, always a deep threat who beat UCLA earlier that season with a 3-pointer, grabbed a loose rebound following an ASU miss with 30 seconds left to set up the final sequence.

The Wildcats called a timeout after they rebounded a missed shot by Hassan Adams with 20 seconds left, and Stoudamire held the ball for the final 18 while he sized up the defense. “I didn’t want to shoot a deep three,” Stoudamire said, “and I didn’t want to go all the way to the right (he was stronger to his left-handed side) and let the refs decide the outcome of the game. … Olson said getting Stoudamire to pull up for the midrange range shot was less risky than trying to fire it down to center Channing Frye, who would have likely attracted double teams.” — Pascoe.

Arizona Daily Star clipping of Salim Stoudamire’s game-winner in 2005 over ASU

Sun Devil fans will argue Stoudamire shuffled his feet and traveled before his double-pump 11-foot jumper that went into the basket.

ASU coach Rob Evans declined to comment on the non-call after the game. “I don’t get into officiating,” Evans told reporters. “I mean, you saw the play.”

Bobby Hurley took a different stance about the refs following the loss that ended with Tubelis’ tip.

He argued vehemently to reporters that ASU guard Remy Martin was fouled by Tubelis while driving aggressively to the hoop and should have tried two free throws.

Tubelis instead managed to knock the ball from Martin’s attempt into the hands of Bennedict Mathurin, who passed the ball to Akinjo with about six seconds left.

“I pushed it, I looked up to see the clock and saw Azuolas 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.” — Rivera.

Arizona and ASU are scheduled to play again Monday night at McKale in the 240th meeting of the rivals.

Will a heroic shot take place again for Arizona like that from Hansen, Marshall, Nehls, Smith, Stoudamire and Tubelis?

That type of history has not occurred often, but it can always be made, just like a last-second shot.

Azoulas Tubelis celebrates after his game-winning tip-in at the buzzer over ASU (Arizona Athletics photo)


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com 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 CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, 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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