Daven Harmeling stole the show in making 7 of 11 three-pointers en route to a career-high 28 points. The redshirt sophomore knocked down big shot after big shot, highlighted by consecutive threes that gave the Cougars a 51-46 lead with eight minutes to play.
Harmeling's shots rejuvenated the crowd and his teammates as their lead would stretch to as many as seven before the Wildcats' late rally.
Washington State was hot from the floor in the early going as they raced to a 19-9 lead. Arizona began the game playing man-to-man and the Cougars used a series of high screens, backdoor cuts and pick and rolls to simply shred the Wildcats.
It took 10 minutes, but Arizona finally switched to a zone and quickly began to stifle the Cougars. Arizona would hold the Cougars to only seven points for the remainder of the half while scoring 20 to take a 27-24 lead into the locker room.
Arizona did an outstanding job in neutralizing Wazzu's leading score and floor general, Derrick Low, holding the standout junior to only four points on 1 of 12 shooting. However, Harmeling and the other Cougars proved to be too much for Arizona.
Robbie Cowgill and Kyle Weaver combined to make 11 of 16 field goals in scoring 13 and 15 points, respectively. Little used Chris Matthews also contributed eight points off the bench as he made two huge three pointers in the second half that helped to hold off the Wildcats.
Arizona was again led by Mustafa Shakur who finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. He was also perfect from the charity stripe, making all seven attempts.
Overshadowed by Hamerling's three point shooting display was the overall stat line for Weaver. Weaver had 10 rebounds and seven assists to go along with his 15 points. Still, it was Weaver's two missed free throws with 26.7 seconds to go that gave Arizona a breath of life.
Trailing 67-64, Arizona took advantage of Wazzu's struggles at the foul line. Arizona's Shakur attacked the basket and kicked the ball back out to a waiting Radenovic who calmly banged home the game tying three.
Wazzu's Low rushed down the court and was whistled for an offensive foul some 35 feet from the basket. WSU coach Tony Bennett took exception to the call but replays showed that Low clearly used his off arm to push off Shakur.
Arizona had 8.5 seconds to run a play but all they could muster was a pick and pop from the top of the key. Shakur rubbed off of Radenovic's screen and was able to draw the mismatch as Cowgill switched off of Radenovic. However, instead of attacking the basket, Shakur chose to pass back to a well defended Radenovic who missed badly as time ran out.
In overtime, it was all Washington State as the Cougars reeled off the first six points. Arizona again tried to rally but Williams' pass to a cutting Chase Budinger was tipped and stolen and once Wazzu laid the ball in for two points the other way, the score was 77-71 and the game was all but over.
Next up for Arizona is a reunion with ex-Wildcat coach, Jay John, and his Oregon State Beavers. Before we get to Thursday night's game though let's take a quick peak and the good, the bad and the ugly from last night's loss.
Arizona was pretty much playing its worst game of the season. The effort was there, but they were getting no results. The team only had 11 assists on 26 made field goals and for the game shot only 39.4 percent. However, with a minute to play and trailing 67-60 Arizona found a way to gut it out, secure rebounds and make clutch shots in rallying to knot things up at 67 before the buzzer sounded. While no loss is good, this game proved that the Wildcats have a lot of heart and a lot of confidence. To play so poorly on offense yet continue to work hard on defense to try and desperately steal this game is a good sign. If nothing else, it tells me that this team is willing to get after it whether things are rolling along or snowballing in the wrong direction. I can't this for some of the recent versions of the Wildcats.
I can't quite figure out why Arizona opened playing man-to-man defense. It makes no sense. I sort of understand that they were trying to force tempo by extending their defense, but Wazzu is not Samford. Wazzu torched Arizona's defense with back cuts, screens and pop outs that left the Wildcats chasing for the game's first ten minutes. The easy buckets got the crowd fired up and gave Wazzu the confidence they needed to go head-to-head with Arizona. I would also say that Arizona's shooting was bad on Saturday night but that really wouldn't be fair. Wazzu is a great defensive team, as is Arizona, and both teams played well on the defensive side of the ball. I don't have the exact count but I think Arizona was whistled for five charges while the Cougars were whistled for six. Both teams also contended practically every shot. All but one of Hammerling's threes were contested and if he missed just one more, perhaps that 27 footer he took with only four seconds on the shot clock, then Arizona wins the game.
I'll be the first to admit that my final score prediction was ugly (UA 71 WSU 58). All season I've been pretty much dead on in final score and results but something went awry on Saturday. In my preview I was clear as to why Arizona would win, saying that Arizona had to do four things in order to pull this one out. I quote myself:
"That said, Saturday will be an unbelievable test against the defensive-minded Cougars. Questions that must be answered include how well Budinger reacts to the rigorous travel schedule it takes to get to Pullman, how well McClellan's legs hold up in playing in the Thursday/Saturday format, how well Shakur can dictate tempo, and whether or not Williams can continue to help out Radenovic by scoring inside the paint."
Williams did help out Radenovic by scoring inside the paint. Unfortunately, none of my other keys came to fruition. Budinger and McClellan both played well below their capabilities and although Shakur did have a fine game, Wazzu clearly dictated tempo for all 45 minutes. What was tough too is that although I predicted the win, for the first time this season my confidence quickly waned the second Arizona came out in a man-to-man defense. Within two minutes Wazzu had three easy buckets and I knew right then and there that we were in for a long night. Oh well, we all knew we were going to lose games on the road in the Pac-10 and if you would've offered me at the start of conference play a split from the Washington trip I would have accepted without hesitation. A sweep would've been huge but the reality of this year is that the Pac-10 is just loaded with talent and nothing will come easy for any team.