The Arizona Wildcats remain a second half team, having outscored their opponents by 86 points after halftime this season. But unlike in their previous game, that second-half surge wasn’t enough to overcome another poor first half.
Arizona (7-3) fell 76-73 at Alabama on Sunday afternoon, rallying from down 19 points to lead twice midway through the second half but ending up on the losing end in its first nonconference road game.
Justin Coleman had a chance to force overtime but his three-quarter court shot—taken with enough time left to get in a dribble or two—fell far short. That came after Alabama’s Kira Lewis Jr. made two free throws with 3.6 left for the final margin.
Chase Jeter had a career-high 19 points (on 9-of-16 shooting) while Brandon Randolph had 17 points and Brandon Williams added 16 for Arizona, which lost a nonconference road game for the first time since a 71-67 setback at UNLV in December 2014.
The game was decided at the free throw line, with Alabama (6-3) getting there far more than the Wildcats. The Crimson Tide were only 16 of 28 on foul shots but that was still better than Arizona’s 6-of-9 free-throw performance.
The Wildcats trailed 39-30 at halftime after being down as many as 19. Arizona outscored the Crimson Tide 16-6 over the final 6 1/2 minutes of the opening half, with Alabama missing eight of its final nine shots after a 14-of-23 start.
Arizona carried that momentum into the locker room and back out, opening the second half on a 6-0 run to pull within 39-36 with 18:27 left. Consecutive three-pointers by Williams, Randolph and then Williams again cut the deficit to 47-45 with 15:43 remaining.
But after starting 6 of 9 in the second half the Wildcats went cold, mostly from close range. Seven straight misses, including three layups, combined with a few more unforced errors, led to a nearly four-minute scoring drought during which Alabama extended its lead to 53-45 with 12:15 remaining.
Then, all of a sudden, the Wildcats figured things out again on offense with a 10-0 run to lead 55-53 with 9:55 left. Coleman’s runner, which Alabama goaltended on, gave Arizona its first lead since 14-13 less than eight minutes into the game.
The lead changed hands a few times before Alabama built a four-point edge (64-60) with 4:27 left but Arizona scored on its next two possessions to knot things up. Williams faked a handoff to Dylan Smith and then split a double team for a layup, and after a defensive stop Jeter scored inside to tie it at 64 with 3:10 left.
Alabama retook the lead for good on a Donta Hall dunk with 2:46 left, and Lewis’ stepback three-pointer with 13.2 seconds to go appeared to clinch it at 73-68. But then Randolph drained a trailing three to cut it to 73-71 with 7.5 seconds left.
It was a rough game for Arizona’s two Alabama natives, Coleman and Smith. Smith was scoreless while Coleman, who played his first two college seasons with the Crimson Tide had eight points, five rebounds and six assists but also five of Arizona’s 11 turnovers.
Arizona returns to action Saturday at home against Baylor, the start of a five-game homestand that includes the beginning of Pac-12 play.
That contest is a must-win for the Wildcats since it’s their last notable non-league opponent and their record against power-conference teams (including Gonzaga) currently stands at 2-3. Not to mention quality wins will be hard to come by once Pac-12 play begins.