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Good defense gave the Cats a final shot at winning the game. Arizona looked to have a sure offensive rebound on their prior possession, but Channing Frye and Hassan Adams collided as each got a hold of the carom. The ball got away from both players and the Trojans got possession with 38.9 seconds left. After a timeout USC ran the clock down, trying to get a shot in the final seconds. Arizona extended the pressure and the Trojans got the ball to Desmon Farmer who put up a desperation 25-footer that failed to draw iron, giving the Wildcats the ball on a shot clock violation.
Henry Bibby called timeout to set the Trojan defense, but it also allowed the Wildcats to draw up a play. The first option was a cross court pass to Adams, but when that was not there, Frye inbounded the ball to Shakur who went to work on the Trojan defense.
Shakur, who had never won a game on a final shot, raced down the court and pulled up at the top of the key for a three-point attempt. The ball drew nothing but net and Shakur was quickly mobbed by his teammates.
"I knew I was going to make it," Shakur said. "Once I shot it, it was like it was in slow motion."
The Wildcat point guard had a great game all around. He scored 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out six assists.
"Mustafa always hits this one with five seconds left," joked Lute Olson.
Maybe it was a good thing that the game was so late. Most of the nation was asleep and missed a foul marred game between USC and Arizona. It may have come down to a final shot, but a game with 45 fouls, 57 free throw attempts and both teams shooting less than 40%, was not exactly a thing of beauty.
Arizona shot 39.7% from the field, but was actually over three percentage points better than the Trojans. The Cats made just 27.8% of their three-pointers, while USC hit just 21.4%. To make matters worse, the Trojans made just 12-21 foul shots.
It was billed as a battle between Salim Stoudamire and Farmer, but it became a contest of which big-time scorer could play worse. Stoudamire was a horrid 3-15 from the field, but looked like he was on fire compared to Farmer's 2-20 shooting night.
"Salim did not have a good shooting night, but he caused Farmer to have a worse one," Olson noted.
Neither player could get in a rhythm. Stoudamire actually hit his first three-pointer but then went on to miss his next seven. Farmer was worse, he never connected on a long ball and actually air balled two attempts.
"Desmon had a tough night, but that's the way the basketball bounces sometimes," Bibby said. "We haven't had one of those nights like that from Desmon this year, so I guess he was due for one."
As bad as Farmer played, the Trojans were still in it thanks to the play of Lodrick Stewart and Errick Craven. Stewart scored 20, while Craven added 18, including six in a row to spark USC late in the game.
It was the Wildcat frontline that was big for Arizona. Despite allowing USC to rip down 20 offensive rebounds, the Wildcat post players played very well. Hassan Adams had 21 points and 14 rebounds, despite bing saddled with foul trouble. Channing Frye had 19 points, and played 38 minutes despite picking up his third foul just 1:42 into the second half. He never picked up his fourth.
The same could not be said for Adams or Iguodala. By the 9:00 mark of the second half both players had four fouls. With 7:35 left in the contest Olson inserted them both in the game. Adams survived, Iguodala did not. On a close play under the basket with 3:20 left, Iguodala was whistled for his fifth foul as he attempted a fast break lay-in. "We needed Andre badly because we were getting thumped on the defensive glass," Olson said.
Iguodala finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, but was limited to just 22 minutes of action.
The Wildcats started the game a little sloppy, but that all changed with a Salim Stoudamire three-pointer. Stoudamire's bucket started an 17-2 run in which the Wildcats would knock down two more triples, one by Adams and one by Iguodala. Stoudamire's second bucket in the run, this one just inside the arc, gave the Wildcats a 22-9 lead.
Arizona maintained a double-digit lead for most of the half. With Farmer struggling, it was McMillan who led the Trojans back. McMillan scored a pair of buckets and assisted on a Lodrick Stewart three as the Trojans proceeded to outscore the Wildcats 12-4 and pulled within four, 38-34.
The Trojans were not done. They scored the last basket of the first half, and then proceeded to outscore the Wildcats 11-3 to open the second half. The Wildcats found themselves suddenly in foul trouble as they had four whistles blown on them in the first 2:30 of the half. The Trojans hit 4-6 from the stripe before a Rory O'Neal three gave them the 47-43 lead.
Arizona and USC traded punches for a long stretch. The Wildcats took the lead 50-49 on a Frye tip and the two teams then traded leads seven times before Arizona took a three-point lead on back to back buckets by Frye and Stoudamire, but three straight turnovers squandered that lead. The Trojans scored off of every turnover and soon they had the three-point lead, 64-61.
Arizona controlled the next few minutes, thanks in large part to Trojan foul trouble. The Cats made 8-9 free throws and built a 76-70 lead as USC struggled on the offensive end.
However, that did not last long. Lodrick Stewart scored five in a row to tie the game at 76, but he could not get a look on the final possession.
Photo by Carl Shifflette