LAHAINA, Hawaii — The Arizona Wildcats punched their ticket to Maui Invitational semifinals with a 71-66 comeback victory over an undermanned but very game Iowa State team on Monday.
The Wildcats, who trailed for most of the contest, battled back from a 10-point deficit with 11 minutes to go behind the clutch shooting of senior floor leader Justin Coleman.
Coleman led the way with 18 points and three assists. He also hit a team-high 4 treys and scored 15 of his points in the second half.
A crafty right-handed scoop layup by Coleman tied the game at 56. Coleman’s three from the top of key completed the comeback and gave his team their first lead 63-60 with 1:49 left. A pair of free throws by 17-year old ISU freshman guard Talen Horton-Tucker knotted the score at 63.
An offensive rebound by Ryan Luther with 39.1 second led to two free throws that gave the Wildcats a 65-63 advantage. Chase Jeter’s rebound off of a Weiler-Babb miss on the next Cyclone possession secured the win for the Wildcats.
Jeter turned in a gritty performance inside as Arizona’s lone defensive presence down low, with 10 points and 12 rebounds. The wiry junior was often smothered by two and three Iowa State players all game long. Despite his lean frame, Jeter showed will and tenacity in his 31 minutes of work.
“I’m just proud of these guys,” Jeter said. “Coming into this we had some good games. We knew once we got to this field that the competition was going to rise. I think we came out a little bit lax and kind of intimidated a little bit by the atmosphere maybe. We took a deep breath and guys we got our feet under us, I think I’m just really proud of my teammates and how we performed out there. Especially the way we finished the game.”
After seizing the lead at 64-63, Arizona made their next seven attempts from the charity stripe to seal the win. Freshman Brandon Williams made four of them.
While the Wildcats were good when they needed to be down the stretch, Coleman was the spark plug his team needed.
“I just had to get a feel of their defense, what’s open, what’s not open, how to get my teammates shots,” said Coleman. “I was looking for my teammates and things just opened up for me as well so I just took the shots that were open for me and they just happened to fall for me today.”
The Cyclones 20-18 lead with 7:02 on a steal and break-up dunk by Cyclone guard Nick Weiler-Babb during a horrid 2 for 13 shooting stretch for Arizona. Iowa State took a 36-27 lead into intermission thanks in part to the tandem of guard Marial Shayok and forward Michael Jacobson. Iowa State took advantage of Arizona’s Achilles heel aka their lack of size inside recklessly during much of the match-up, driving to the basket at will.
The 40 to 36 rebounding advantage by the Cyclones is a little misleading, as Iowa State outrebounded the Wildcats by more than 10 for a good portion of the contest.
Arizona inched closer to 43-40 thanks to back to back threes by Coleman and Williams. A Weiler-Babb three pushed the Cyclone lead to 54-44 with 10:53 to play. A Luther lay-in narrowed the deficit to 56-52 with 8:01 left.
Williams, who was 9 for 10 from the line, had an uneventful Maui debut from the field by his standards (2-for-11 shooting), but still finished with 14 points and a team-high six assists.
His assist-to-turnover ratio is 22 to 2 on the season.
“We’re very new to each other and in an environment like this, a game like this can really bring you closer together,” said UA coach Sean Miller. “I think you learn what it takes. Each of these guys is in a brand new role. Some things as simple as free throw shooting. Allonzo Trier, he’s one of the best free throw shooters late games that I’ve ever coached. You take it for granted in the three years that he was with us, late in the game and the ball got to him and he made them 90-plus percent of the time. Well, even tonight who is going to be that player that you’re going to want to put on the foul line? And you saw Brandon Williams as a freshman go 9-10 from the line. So there’s always things that you learn in November, but you can’t learn them unless you really are challenged. If we would have lost tonight we would have learned a lot.
“The fact we won is great, but I think more than anything it’s just us having an opportunity to grow, keep getting better and if you can win while you’re doing that, then obviously that’s what we all want to do.”
Arizona will face the winner of Gonzaga-Illinois Tuesday afternoon for the right to play for the coveted Maui Invitational title game on Wednesday.