This time, it was the Wildcats who fought back from a big deficit against Illinois to tie the game in the closing seconds, and Arizona pulled away in overtime to beat the Illini 78-72 at the United Center in Chicago.
Illinois, who started the game on a 12-0 run, and led by as many as 13 late in the first half, had 8 turnovers in the last 7 minutes of the game, and were outscored by Arizona 16-9 in the closing minutes as a 7 point lead evaporated. The Illini also struggled from the free throw line again, going 10-22 from the charity stripe.
The end of regulation was not without controversy. After Chester Frazier had a shot blocked with 3 seconds remaining, Arizona's Nic Wise gathered up the loose ball and was trapped against the sideline. Wise appeared to call timeout, which would have resulted in a technical foul against Arizona, who had none left. The official directly in front of the play, Kevin Mathis, did not grant the timeout, even though Illinois players, coaches and fans clearly saw the request. When the replay of the call was made on the United Center video screen during the ensuing timeout, Wise was clearly shown requesting the illegal timeout, and the Illinois fans in attendance let out howls of protest. Mathis refused to acknowledge the questions by the Illinois coaching staff during the timeout.
After the game, the officials quickly left he building and were unavailable for questions by the Illinois staff and Big 10 officials.
The loss overshadowed a great performance by Shaun Pruitt, who overcame an ankle injury earlier in the week to score 24 points on 10-11 shooting and pull down 9 rebounds. Trent Meacham provided Illinois' only real outside threat, scoring 16 points on 3-6 shooting from beyond the arc, and adding 6 assists. The rest of the Illinois squad was 1-11 on three-point shots. Calvin Brock continued his solid play of late, scoring 11 points and grabbing 3 steals. Chester Frazier struggled offensively, and was held scoreless while committing 6 turnovers.
Arizona was led by sophomore forward Jordan Hill, who scored 23 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. Freshman sensation Jerryd Bayless struggled early, going 0-6 from the field to start the game, but hit a 3-pointer with time winding down in the first half which seemed to break him out of his slump. Bayless went 4-9 in the second half to help ignite Arizona's comeback. Chase Budinger was quiet under the defense of Brian Randle and Brock, and was held 10 points under his season average, only scoring 8.
InsideIllini will have additional postgame stories, including comments from players and Illinois head coach Bruce Weber.