Feb. 17, 2011
Miller was right and his best player was back.
Williams had his best game since getting his pinky bent backward three weeks ago, scoring 26 points and grabbing eight rebounds to help the 12th-ranked Wildcats overcome Klay Thompson's big night and beat Washington State 79-70 on Thursday.
"He's worrying about less now, you can tell he's feeling better, which makes sense because this is the three-week mark of his injury and what we talked about is this is when he'd start to feel better," Miller said. "I think big picture-wise, he's going to be returning back to form."
Williams had been relatively quiet the previous two games, scoring a combined 23 points as he tried to fight through collapsing defenses and a bandage that made his right hand look like a white toy gun.
The defense nor the still-bandaged pinky didn't bother him this night.
Somewhat reluctant to shoot as much with his right hand after the injury, Williams shot confidently from his dominant side, getting to the rim seemingly whenever he wanted and to the line when he didn't. Shaking off a slow start, Williams gained confidence as the game went along, finishing 7 of 10 from the floor and hitting all 12 of his free throws to help Arizona (22-4, 11-2 Pac-10) improve to 14-0 at home.
"Yeah, he played great," said Arizona guard Kyle Fogg, who had most of his seven assists to Williams.
Arizona needed more than just Williams against the Cougars.
Numerous players provided a lift early as Williams revved up his engine and Solomon Hill provided additional support by scoring all 12 of his points in the second half.
Arizona had some breakdowns defensively in the second half, particularly on Thompson, to lose most of a 17-point lead, but pulled out its seventh straight win by making 24 of 26 free throws, including 21 straight.
"That's the sign of a good team, a veteran team that knows how to win," Washington State coach Ken Bone said. "Good teams don't beat themselves and Arizona didn't allow that to happen."
Washington State still almost pulled it out behind Thompson.
The Pac-10's leading scorer had a quiet start just like Williams, then got into a rhythm, scoring his 30 points in bunches. Thompson had 12 points in the first half and almost single-handedly led the Cougars back with 11 points in 3 1/2 minutes after Washington State fell behind by 17.
He finished 11 of 24 from the floor, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range.
"Klay Thompson proved to a lot of people he's one of the best college players out there," Miller said. "I don't know what more we could do. It wasn't like we had a lack of effort or lack of responsibility. He really earned it."
Washington State (17-9, 7-7) just couldn't give Thompson enough support to pull out what would have been a resume-building road win.
The Cougars trailed by nine after an up-and-down first half and bumbled the start of the second, allowing Hill to eclipse his season average with the first seven points and needing 4 1/2 minutes to get their first field goal.
Thompson tried to shoot them back into it, but the Cougars couldn't climb all the way out of the big hole. DeAngelo Casto added 14 points for Washington State.
"I think we can play better than we showed tonight," Thompson said. "They played well throughout the game and showed some really good stuff."
Neither of the Pac-10's two leading scorers shot particularly well in the teams' first meeting, a 65-63 win by Arizona in Pullman. Arizona hounded Thompson all over the floor, holding him to nine points on 4-of-16 shooting in that first matchup. Williams was just 4 for 13 from the floor, but finished with 17 points and 19 rebounds.
Casto was a big reason for Williams' off-shooting night and the Cougars got good news when he was able to play after spraining his ankle against Cal last week.
The 6-foot-8 junior made it hard on Williams early, even blocking one of his shots to the front row.
Thing is, it hasn't mattered if teams have been able to keep Williams quiet lately. The rest of the Wildcats have picked up the slack.
Against California, it was Lamont Jones and Kevin Parrom each hitting career highs while combining for 52 points. Fogg took his turn against rival Arizona State in Arizona's previous game, hitting six 3-pointers to match his career high with 26 points.
Williams was back in form against Washington State and had help, too.
The supporting cast carried the Wildcats while Williams was quiet early, then he scored 10 of his 12 first-half points in the final 7:14 to put Arizona up 41-33.
Hill took his turn at carrying the Wildcats to start the second half and Williams added an alley-oop off an inbound pass to put Arizona up 50-33. Arizona's depth and free-throw shooting kept the Cougars from making it all the way back.
"They have so many guys," Bone said. "You may stop one, two, three, four or five guys, but there is still someone else that can play. That's why those teams are in the top-20."
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