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Cats Fall to Cougars, 69-65
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 12/06/2005
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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HOUSTON (AP) - After two mostly forgettable decades, the Houston Cougars are on their way back into the national spotlight.

Oliver Lafayette scored 28 points and Houston recorded its second straight upset of a Top 25 team on Saturday night, beating No. 15 Arizona 69-65.

Jahmar Thorpe added 13 points and Lanny Smith had 11 assists for the Cougars (3-1), who beat No. 25 LSU 84-83 on Tuesday. The Wildcats (2-3) were the highest-ranked team to lose to Houston since the Cougars upset third-ranked Memphis 69-67 in 1996.

``We're a Top 25 team, as you can see,'' said Lafayette, who made seven 3-pointers, one shy of the school record. ``Houston ain't got no name right now. We're trying to make a name for ourselves.''

As the buzzer sounded, the raucous crowd of 8,029 spilled onto the court, celebrating Houston's biggest victory since a 70-66 win over 16th-ranked Louisville last January.

Houston has fallen off the college basketball map since the days of Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. They've been to only three NCAA tournaments since and haven't been ranked since the 1992-93 season.

The past week should change all that.

``This team deserves it,'' second-year coach Tom Penders said. ``This team right now, doing what we just did, not too many teams can do that.''

Hassan Adams came back from an early benching to score 21 for the sloppy Wildcats, who committed 21 turnovers and shot 35 percent (22 of 63).

Arizona trailed by 15 in the second half, then surged back within 68-65 heading into the final seconds.

Lafayette hit a free throw with 8.6 seconds left to push the lead to four. He missed the second one, then stole the ball from Ivan Radenovic and got fouled again with 5 seconds left.

Lafayette went 10-for-17 from the field, 7-for-11 from 3-point range, but only 1-for-4 from the free-throw line.

``When I missed that one, I knew I better get the rebound or Coach Penders would have been all over me,'' Lafayette said. ``I guess he'll be all over me anyhow.''

After his final steal, Lafayette missed another foul shot, but Adams dribbled the ball off his foot in the closing seconds - an all too appropriate ending for Arizona's inconsistent performance.

``This game will help prepare us for league play,'' said Arizona coach Lute Olsen. ``A loss hurts, but it seems like if you lose one nonconference game, it doesn't stay on your ledger like a conference loss does.''

The quicker, more energetic Cougars opened the game with a 20-4 run, fueling the rowdy cheers in tiny Hofheinz Pavilion with dunks, defense and 3-point shooting.

Ramon Dyer set the tone immediately, grabbing a steal and driving for a two-handed dunk 18 seconds after the opening tip.

The Wildcats were awful offensively at the start, missing 16 of their first 17 shots and committing nine turnovers in the first 10 minutes. They were also short-handed - Olsen benched Adams and Chris Rodgers after they showed up late for a pre-game meal.

``We were in a panic mode,'' Olsen said. ``I'm disappointed they let their teammates down, but that's exactly what they did.''

Both stars were in the game by the midpoint of the half, and Adams' fast-break layup with 7:46 left cut Houston's lead to 24-11. Thorpe answered 10 seconds later with the Cougars' fourth dunk, triggering another earsplitting roar from the crowd.

The Wildcats slowed down the pace to get back into it, finishing the half with an 18-3 run. Adams had nine at halftime on 4-of-8 shooting.

The Cougars hit 10 of their first 17 shots - five of them 3-pointers - then missed eight of their final nine shots before the break.

Smith dunked and Lafayette sank a 3-pointer to open the second half, re-energizing the fans that Arizona had quieted.

Houston's lead slipped back into double digits as Arizona got careless again, committing seven turnovers in the first 12 minutes after halftime. Lafayette swished two 3-pointers from the wing and Dyer hit a reverse layup to put the Cougars up 54-39 and trigger chants of ``Overrated!''

The Cougars seemed to have the game in hand after Lafayette hit a pull-up jumper over a double-team with 2:30 left and Smith found Thorpe open for a dunk with 2:07 to go, pushing the lead to 10.

Adams had a fast-break layup, Mustafa Shakur sank two free throws and Radenovic hit a 3-pointer over the next 90 seconds to pull the Wildcats within three and set up the dramatic finish.

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