Derrick Williams continues to establish his credentials for Pac-10 Player of the Year consideration.
The sophomore power forward poured in a career-high 31 points and pulled down 12 rebounds Thursday night to lift the Arizona Wildcats to a 73-71 victory over visiting California.
Williams attempted a school-record 22 free throws in the Pac-10 contest at McKale Center in Tucson. He made 16 of his foul shots, including 11 during the final 17 minutes of the second half, when Arizona (13-3 overall, 2-1 Pac-10) erased a nine-point deficit.
“The coaches talked to me after the Oregon State game (a 76-75 loss to the Beavers in Corvallis last Saturday), just telling me to be more dominant and ask for the ball more,” said Williams, who is averaging 19.4 points per game this season. “I’m not really a selfish-type person, but today I had to be a little selfish and put everybody on my shoulders and carry the team.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller was glad to see it.
“It was great to see him kind of take that next step,” Miller said about Williams, whose previous career high in scoring was a 28-point game against UNLV on Dec. 2, 2009. “His personality is so unassuming. There was a time in the game tonight where I really felt he said, ‘Hey, get on my back. I’m going to win this game.’ You shoot 22 free throws and 12 field-goal attempts, you’re really going to work on offense. That was the biggest story of the game, his great individual performance. He willed us to a win.”
Williams broke his own University of Arizona record for most free throws attempted in a game, surpassing the total of 21 that he registered against Wisconsin on Nov. 23, 2009. He ignited the Wildcats’ second-half comeback Thursday by knocking down a jump shot and then making two free throws to reduce a 41-32 deficit to 41-36.
Following a split pair of free throws by Cal’s Richard Solomon, Williams slashed across the lane for a layup to make it 42-38. A three-point play by Williams drew the Wildcats within 45-43, and his right-handed, windmill dunk closed the gap to 47-45.
The Wildcats caught the Golden Bears at 60-60 when Williams stole the ball from Cal’s Jorge Gutierrez, was fouled by Gutierrez and made both ends of a one-and-one free-throw opportunity with 5:28 remaining.
After Brandon Smith hit a jumper from the left baseline that put Cal ahead 62-60, Williams made two more foul shots, again in a one-and-one situation, to tie the score at 62-62.
The Wildcats pulled ahead to stay at 64-62 on two free throws by MoMo Jones with 3:39 remaining. Jones, a sophomore point guard, then made a 4-foot runner in the lane to increase Arizona’s advantage to 66-62 with 2:07 left.
Following a defensive rebound by Williams, the Wildcats pulled ahead 70-64 on a three-pointer from the left wing by Kyle Fogg with 1:01 remaining.
Cal’s Harper Kamp began the tense final minute by converting a three-point play on a drive to the basket and subsequent free throw.
After the Wildcats turned the ball over, California freshman Allen Crabbe was fouled by Kevin Parrom on a three-point shot attempt with 33.5 seconds left. Crabbe, who led the Golden Bears with 17 points, made the first free throw, missed the second and made the third to reduce Cal’s deficit to 70-69.
After Jones made two free throws for Arizona with 31.1 seconds left and Crabbe hit two foul shots for Cal with 11.5 seconds remaining, the Golden Bears nearly forced a turnover on the Wildcats’ ensuing possession. Jones was swarmed in the backcourt by Cal’s defensive pressure, but he was finally able to heave a 40-foot, crosscourt pass to Solomon Hill, who was fouled by Kamp with 2.6 seconds left.
Hill made his first free throw but missed the second. California grabbed the rebound, trailing 73-71 with 1.4 seconds remaining.
Following a timeout, the Golden Bears inbounded under their own basket. Gutierrez caught the pass and fired a shot from half-court that bounced off the backboard as time expired.
“It was a great college basketball game, two teams really playing hard and playing to win,” Arizona’s Miller said afterward. “And I give Cal tremendous credit.”
Gutierrez finished with 14 points for the Golden Bears (7-7, 0-2), who also got 12 points each from Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison.
Fogg and Jamelle Horne each scored 10 points for Arizona.
For video of California’s last-second shot attempt, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwFYo6J4iUA
For video of Sean Miller’s postgame press conference, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGu_VSDWaZg