If the game was a show, the star was Husky point guard Nate Robinson, who put the team on his shoulders from the opening tip until the final buzzer, netting a game-high 31 points on a night when he missed just 4 of 21 shots he attempted. The scoring output was a career-high for Robinson.
The win snapped an eight-game losing streak to Arizona, and was the Huskies first win over a ranked opponent under head coach Lorenzo Romar. It was also the first time in five years that the Huskies rolled off three-consecutive Pac-10 victories.
"I'm just extremely proud of our guys," said the Huskies second-year coach in a packed media room after the historic game. "They really played together."
The Huskies (8-8, 3-5 Pac-10) trailed by as much as 11 late in the first half, but chipped away at the Wildcats' lead with tough, swarming defense and the red-hot play of Robinson. They tied the score at 71 with 5:01 remaining as Robinson skied high for a rebound, swiped it out of the air with his right hand, and put it back in.
With the home-crowd in rare form, on their feet screaming at a deafening level, the Huskies found themselves in a situation they've rarely succeeded at during any time over the past five years – in a close game against a ranked opponent in the final minutes.
On this night, it didn't matter. Robinson wouldn't let the Huskies lose.
But while No. 2 was the catalyst for Washington, it was the clutch play of several other Huskies down the stretch that enabled the home-team to pull away from the Wildcats (13-4, 5-3).
Junior point guard Will Conroy scored two of his 19 points on a 12-foot baseline shot to put the Huskies ahead. That was just the beginning. After an Arizona turnover at the other end, Bobby Jones, who was inserted in the lineup late after being in foul trouble for the entire game, came through with a tough 12-footer of his own to make it a two-possession game at 75-71.
That sent the rabid home crowd into a chaotic state that the renovated Hec Ed may have never witnessed, pumping up the Huskies and sending the Wildcats into a state of panic. It showed.
A three-point play by Arizona's Hassan Adams halted the UW momentum and brought the visitors back to within one, but the Bandaid was only temporary for Lute Olson's team.
Washington answered with an 11-0 run over the next 2:18, giving the Huskies an 88-74 lead with just 53 seconds left.
The Wildcats turned the game into a free throw shooting contest from that point on, but on this night, the Huskies wouldn't give. Conroy connected on five of six attempts from the charity stripe and Robinson hit all four, pushing him over 30 for the first time in his career.
Nate-Rob's previous high was 25 points.
"Nate Robinson is an unbelievable player and a tremendous competitor," said Olson. "Nate scored a bunch of buckets off of steals, but I don't think that he got easy shots in the half court defense. It was the opportunities that he created with his quickness and steals."
Robinson was one of four Huskies to finish in double-figures. Joining him were Conroy, Brandon Roy (14), and Mike Jensen (10).
Arizona was led by the 19 of Hassan Adams, with Andre Iguodala (17) and Salim Stoudamire (16) right behind him.
Washington forced Arizona into 21 turnovers while turning the ball over just 14 times, and outscored the Wildcats 32 to 17 on points off of turnovers.
"We were real scrappy tonight," said Romar of his team. "I talked to you guys about Nate Robinson and scouting him. If there is a loose ball, watch for Nate because he will get it.
"That was what he did tonight. He got the lose balls and started fast breaks."
Robinson finished with five steals.
But what fans will remember more than any fastbreak or steal is the play that Robinson turned in midway through the second half with the Huskies trailing by three. On a play that worked earlier with Jensen as the recipient, the super-atheletic 5-foot-9 sophomore guard snuck behind the Wildcats' defense, jumped out of his shoes for a high alley-oop pass from Curtis Allen, and slammed in a thunderous, how'd-that-happen dunk.
The unforgettable play brought the Huskies to within one, but more than that it gave each of the 8,545 in attendance a moment of a lifetime.
Such was the way it went Thursday night at Hec Ed.
"To beat a ranked team like this is something that will hopefully raise our confidence to a very high level," said Romar.
Up Next: The Huskies play host to Arizona State on Saturday at 5 p.m., looking for their fourth-straight conference victory. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Northwest.
Nate great in UW win over #9 Arizona
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