On Friday night, the Arizona Wildcats and Butler Bulldogs engaged in one of the best contests of this young season.
At the end of it all, Butler was able to pull off the upset, beating Arizona, 69-65, capturing the Las Vegas Invitational Championship.
These two highly skilled teams traded haymakers with one another for forty minutes, making a late November game feel like it was late March.
Bulldogs leader, Kelan Martin, led all scorers, finishing with 16. But his biggest moment of the game was not a bucket. It was his only assist, coming with less than 30 seconds remaining, finding an open Tyler Wideman cutting to the basket. Wideman finished with a dunk as Kadeem Allen made a bad decision to try and foul him at the last moment.
Wideman’s dunk and ensuing free throw would put the Bulldogs up for good.
Lauri Markkanen led the way for Arizona, finishing with 15 points, despite the fact that he played limited minutes in the second half. Markkanen was limited by foul trouble and fouled out on a questionable charge call with over three minutes remaining in the game.
Lauri Markkanen picked up his fifth foul on this. Seriously. pic.twitter.com/nHzoplW2iu— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) November 26, 2016
On the surface, this certainly appears as an upset. Arizona entered the game ranked eighth in the nation, ready to square off with an unranked Butler squad. But, not only did Butler prove that they deserve everyone’s attention, the Las Vegas linemakers seemed to know that Butler belonged leading up to Friday night. Butler entered the game favored by a point. Certainly an odd occurrence to see a top-ten team in the nation as an underdog to a non-ranked opponent on a neutral floor.
Both teams came out firing on all cylinders. At the first TV timeout, both teams had only missed one shot and each had knocked down multiple threes. It was clear we were in for a barnburner.
Arizona and Butler would each slow down after that but everything the Wildcats would do, Butler seemed to have an answer for. After the Wildcats defense broke down in the final four seconds of the half to allow a buzzer-beating layup, Butler took a 36-34 lead into halftime.
Arizona struggled to open the second half, turning the ball over repeatedly and watching the Bulldogs go up by as much as nine.
With Butler leading 55-46, Arizona’s hyper-athletic freshman, Kobi Simmons, took over. He led Arizona to go on a 15-2 run to take the lead.
Arizona takes the lead. What an acrobatic play by @JordanKobi pic.twitter.com/dNaqWQ2dV4— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) November 26, 2016
Arizona led 63-59 but allowed ten straight Bulldogs points in the final 1:38.
Though Simmons was a huge part of Arizona’s comeback in the first place, he launched a desperation three pointer, down 66-63 with 15 seconds left that barely touched the rim and all but ended the game. One has to wonder what play the Wildcats would have run if the team’s best shooter, Lauri Markkanen, had been available.
Arizona drops to 5-1 on the season and will head back to Tucson to play Texas Southern on Wednesday night.