In what is evolving into a year to remember at McKale Center, the Arizona Wildcats earned their most unforgettable win of the season on Saturday, persevering for an 87-86 victory over visiting Washington in front of a frenzied, white-clad capacity crowd.
Solomon Hill scored the winning basket on a putback with 24 seconds left, and Derrick Williams blocked a Washington shot and tipped away an inbounds pass during the frenetic final two seconds as the 12th-ranked Wildcats posted their eighth consecutive victory and strengthened their hold on the Pac-10 lead.
“It’s a great feeling right now,” said Williams, the Wildcats’ All-American candidate who led everyone with 26 points and 11 rebounds. “We’re in first place. Right now we might be a top 10 team. That’s just a great feeling. Coming from where we all came from, that’s the main goal, just try to be a top 10 team and get a high seed.”
Arizona (23-4 overall, 12-2 Pac-10) leads second-place UCLA (19-8, 10-4) by two games in the Pac-10. The Washington Huskies (18-8, 10-5), who dealt the Wildcats their most recent loss on Jan. 20, fell to two-and-a-half games behind Arizona.
The atmosphere at McKale Center was electric from start to finish – perpetuated by the deafening din generated by the raucous gathering of 14,619 fans, who were decked out almost universally in white shirts for the team’s White-Out Saturday promotion.
“It was great,” Williams said. “I haven’t played in front of a crowd like that, ever.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller said the game-day environment was the best he has ever experienced in his college basketball career.
“Our crowd, that‘s why we all came to Arizona, to be a part of something special like this,” said Miller, who is in his second season in Tucson. “If you are a player that’s not here yet, a recruit, you want to play here. If you’re a current player, you thank God you get to play at McKale. And if you’re a fan and you love the Arizona Wildcats and you were here today, you really impacted our ability to win. It was just one of those memorable Saturday afternoons, and I’m just glad we were able to come out on top by one point.”
Trailing 86-85 with 1:01 left, Arizona gained possession on a steal by Williams.
Thirty-five seconds later, with the shot clock winding down and the Wildcats out of timeouts, Jesse Perry put up a 4-footer from the right side of the lane that was blocked from behind by Justin Holiday. Hill was there to grab the carom, and he converted a putback from the left block to give the Wildcats an 87-86 lead with 24 seconds remaining.
“I saw MoMo (Jones) try to get a screen,” Hill said in describing how the play developed. “Once he was able to screen, I knew he was going to drive and J.P. (Perry) was in the corner. I know J.P. likes to drive, but then they did a pick-and-roll, so I just stayed on the block. When you get a situation like that, my man was looking at the ball, he wasn’t really paying attention to me, so I stayed on the block and Jesse happened to drive and I was able to get the tip.”
Hill’s putback accounted for the final two of his eight points in the game.
“The ball didn’t bounce our way on that one,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said about the play. “But give Hill credit. He had the savvy to be in the right position. He’s a hard-nosed player.”
Washington called timeout with 17.5 seconds left. The Huskies tried to feed the ball to Isaiah Thomas for a three-point shot attempt, but Matthew Bryan-Amaning was called for traveling in the lane with three seconds left, just prior to throwing the pass to Thomas.
With a chance to clinch the game on offense, Arizona turned the ball over on Hill’s inbounds pass, which bounced off Jones’ left hand and out of bounds underneath the Washington basket.
The Huskies inbounded under the hoop with 2.2 seconds left. Darnell Gant received the pass and, from the right side of the lane, fired up a 5-foot jumper that was blocked by Williams. On the play, Williams sliced across the paint from the left and, with his back to Gant, swatted the shot out of bounds with his right hand, which was heavily wrapped to protect the sprained pinkie that he sustained on Jan. 27 against UCLA.
“I knew he was going up, so I just tried to block it, and I did,” Williams said.
“It was a heck of a play by Derrick Williams,” said Washington’s Romar.
Williams was asked afterward whether he was concerned that he might be called for goaltending on the play.
“I wasn’t really worried because when I was going up, that’s when he first released the ball, and I just timed it perfectly,” Williams said. “Luckily they didn’t call goaltending. I believe if we were at Washington, they might have called that goaltending, but it’s a good thing we’re at home.”
Miller said he wasn’t worried about a potential goaltending call.
“He (Williams) really went up and got it, (at) the peak of the shot,” the Arizona coach said. “That would’ve been a real tough call to make.”
Washington had one last chance on a final inbounds pass with 0.2 seconds left, but Williams tipped the ball away from intended receiver Bryan-Amaning as the buzzer sounded.
As the crowd roared its approval, the Wildcats mobbed each other in a mid-court celebration, with Williams ending up at the bottom of the pile, extending his injured hand in the air to avoid contact.
“Our trainer ran over there as well,” Williams said. “He was actually holding my arm up, grabbed my arm up so nobody would land on my hand. I thank him for that, because nobody landed on it.”
As the celebration continued, the crowd chanted, “One more year,” imploring the sophomore Williams to eschew entering the upcoming NBA Draft and return to Arizona next season.
“With games like that, that makes me want to stay,” Williams said.
Williams was one of four double-figure scorers for the Wildcats, who got 15 points from Jones and 11 each from Kevin Parrom and Perry.
Williams, a power forward who is averaging 19.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, made 8 of 9 free throws and 8 of 16 field-goal attempts – including both of his shots from beyond the three-point line.
Williams hit two free throws to give Arizona an 82-80 lead with 3:54 left.
After Holiday converted a pair of fast-break layups to put Washington ahead 84-82, Williams knocked down a three-pointer from the left wing to make it 85-84 in favor of the Wildcats with 2:22 remaining.
“Derrick is just an incredible player,” Miller said about Williams, who is shooting 63.1 percent from the field and 67.5 percent from three-point range on the season. “The three-pointer he hit in front of our bench was so clutch. I know a lot of people probably don’t believe me, but in practice, if you ask the players, they’ll probably tell you Derrick is probably about the seventh-best three-point shooter (on the team). And then all of a sudden the game comes, and the thing goes in. He’s such a gamer.”
A putback by Gant gave Washington an 86-85 advantage with 1:47 left, setting the stage for Hill’s game-winning shot and Williams’ game-saving block.
“I told Lorenzo (Romar) after the game, when I shook his hand, I was so caught up in emotion, I think I said, ‘Good win,’” Miller said. “I didn’t mean to say that. Really, what I meant to say was just, ‘What a game.’ It’s a shame that one team had to lose. I have as much respect for him and his program and the way he does things as any coach in the country.”
Bryan-Amaning, a senior power forward, led Washington with 24 points and eight rebounds. The Huskies also got 12 points from Thomas and 11 points from Holiday. Gant finished with seven points and seven rebounds for UW.
With the victory, Arizona remained undefeated at home (15-0) on the season.
To view the video “Feb. 19, 2011: Derrick Williams blocks shot, tips away pass to clinch Arizona victory,” click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srrVSB4F_to
To view the video: “Feb. 19, 2011: Arizona’s Derrick Williams talks about game-saving blocked shot against Washington,” click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMXehfj0TYo
To view the video: “Feb. 19, 2011: Arizona’s Solomon Hill talks about game-winning shot against Washington,” click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVovsPgM9cY
To view the video: “Feb. 19, 2011: Sean Miller post-game press conference, Part 1,” click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNbKmKw1Pv4
To view the video: “Feb. 19, 2011: Sean Miller post-game press conference, Part 2,” click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmkqgjDsGHc