March 3, 2011
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Arizona wasted its first shot at winning a conference championship, collapsing under pressure during a pair of ugly losses in Southern California.
Comfortable at home back in the desert, the young Wildcats found a way to get that win a week later and, boy, are they relieved.
Derrick Williams had 15 points and 12 rebounds, Lamont Jones added 17 points and No. 18 Arizona bounced back from a lost LA weekend to beat Oregon State 70-59 on Thursday night to earn a share of its first Pac-10 title in six years.
"It wasn't for lack of effort, but you want it so bad sometimes you almost work against yourself, especially for us because there's something to be said about being in these moments before - when you've been there a second time, a third time, it's so much easier to deal with," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "I was so proud of our guys breaking through.
The Wildcats (24-6, 13-4) couldn't do it last weekend, struggling against USC and UCLA, not to mention the pressure, while losing consecutive games for the first time this season.
Back at the McKale Center, another chance to move closer to the program's 12th conference title on deck, Arizona shot like a team feeling the heat, at least early.
The Wildcats steadied themselves with defense to keep it close, then wore Oregon State down. Arizona was efficient on offense - 17 assists and eight turnovers - and clogged the passing lanes defensively, then ended the night by celebrating in the locker room when Washington beat UCLA to hand the Wildcats a share of the Pac-10 title.
Next up is a chance to win it outright, by beating Oregon at home on Saturday.
"I think for anyone, that's a dream come true," Arizona senior Jamelle Horne said of cutting down the nets Saturday. "A lot of people would love to trade spots with us. I love where I'm at right now."
Oregon State (10-18, 5-12) might want to be someplace else.
The Beavers shot well and held Williams without a shot attempt in the second half, yet really never had a chance to win. Oregon State had 22 turnovers, was worn down by Arizona's depth down the stretch and had two players - Angus Brandt and Devon Collier - get hit with technicals in the closing minutes in its ninth straight loss.
Devon Collier led the Beavers with 12 points.
"We thought we could win this game," Oregon State forward Omari Johnson said. "We just got a little frustrated out there and that's where all the jostling you saw came from."
Arizona needed a pick-me-up after its trip to SoCal went awry.
Hoping to lock up the Pac-10 title, the Wildcats instead floundered against USC and UCLA, making the final two home games a lot more important than they had hoped.
The conference's second-best scoring team, Arizona averaged a meager 53 points in the two losses - 23 points below its season average - and wasn't particularly good defensively, at least inside the arc.
Williams all but disappeared in the loss to the Trojans, scoring eight points on 3-of-11 shooting, and the Bruins reeled off a 26-4 run spanning halftime to send the Wildcats to their worst loss of the season.
Williams was back to looking like a national player of the year candidate in the first half against Oregon State, skying for rebounds, alternately slicing and powering his way through the lane.
Wearing a pink bandage on his injured right pinky instead of the usual white, the sophomore forward had 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting and 11 rebounds at the half, helping Arizona to a 34-23 lead.
"You know what I like about him? He's so talented and he's so unselfish," Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said. "It doesn't matter how many points he gets, he just plays."
Oregon State has been near the bottom of the Pac-10 most of the season, but sure has given Arizona problems the past two years.
The Beavers swept the Wildcats last year, including their first win in Tucson in 27 years, and held off Arizona by one at Corvallis in early January after forcing 19 turnovers and grabbing 12 offensive rebounds.
Oregon State's secret: Its 1-3-1 zone.
Well, that's at least part of it.
Arizona had no answer for the defense last season and even though the Beavers don't use it as much this year, the Wildcats figured it'd be a big part of their repertoire in the desert.
Oregon State did indeed break out the 1-3-1 at times and Arizona had more trouble with it, missing its first nine 3-point shots. The Wildcats made up for it with defense, forcing eight turnovers in the first eight minutes and 14 total in a mostly ugly first half by both teams.
Oregon State made a brief run early in the second to cut Arizona's lead to six and was able to hang around by limiting Williams' touches. The rest of the Wildcats made up for it, though, with Kyle Fogg and Jones hitting 3-pointers on consecutive trips to make it 56-43, sending them on their way to a big win with the chance at another just two days away.
"We want to win the title outright," Miller said. "We don't want to share it with anyone else."