The Arizona Wildcats outlasted the Utah Utes 84-81 in overtime on Saturday in what Sean Miller called one of his best wins in his 10 seasons at the UA, never mind that Utah is a .500 team.
“Just because of how hard the game was and how easily it could have gone towards Utah,” the UA coach said.
In a game with 15 ties, 12 lead changes, and plenty of dicey moments that made McKale Center antsy, Chase Jeter led the way for Arizona (11-4, 2-0 Pac-12) with 21 points and 13 rebounds, his fourth double-double of the season.
Utah’s Sedrick Barefield scorched the Wildcats for 26 points on 17 shots, but fouled out with 1:44 left in regulation. The Utes (7-7, 1-1) shot 57 percent, but only 3 for 7 in overtime without their star senior.
“I thought we did a really good job of kind of attacking him when he had three and four fouls,” Miller said. “It’s one thing to try to do it, it’s another thing to accomplish it, but fouling him out really changed the game down the stretch. If he didn’t foul out even he would have crossed the 30 (point) threshold. It wasn’t lack of effort, lack of discipline or anything on our end. He’s just a tremendous Pac 12 guard.”
Even with Barefield on the bench, Utah had a chance to win its first game in McKale in decades. The Wildcats jumped out to a four-point lead to begin overtime, but Utah’s Donnie Tillman, who had 21 points, drove for an and-one to put the Utes ahead 81-80 with 1:12 left.
Brandon Randolph banked in a runner to put Arizona back ahead, then made two free throws to extend the lead with 1.6 seconds left.
Utah’s Parker Van Dyke, whose potential game-winning 3 rimmed out just before Randolph’s free throws, heaved a 60-foot shot at the buzzer, but it fell well short.
“Those are the type of games we sign up for when we come to Arizona,” said Jeter, who played 39 minutes. “To be able to have that toughness, that will, that fight from everybody to close that game out in overtime was big for us. That’s the best thing a player could ask for. On this squad, especially.”
Arizona shot 51 percent, hoisted 11 free throws in OT and 30 for the game, making 23 of them. The Utes were 11 for 21 from 3.
Randolph shook off a slow start and finished with 21 points, 17 in the second half plus overtime, going a perfect 6 for 6 from the free-throw line.
“I just think the team needed to be more aggressive and stay aggressive,” Randolph said. “I think Chase definitely brought that and I wanted to back that up.”
Knotted at 72, UA point guard Justin Coleman missed an off-balance jumper with 24 seconds left, seemingly giving Utah the last shot in regulation. But Timmy Allen fumbled an entry pass out of bounds on the ensuing possession, setting up one final look for the Wildcats with 5.3 seconds to spare.
Arizona turned to Coleman, who’s hit several big shots this season. The senior raced up the floor, but stuttered before pulling up just beyond mid-court, his shot clanging off the front iron, sending the game to OT.
“On that last play of regulation, I didn’t think he was himself,” Miller said. “With 5.3 seconds, you have five dribbles. He slowed up a little bit and I would have slowed up too if I were him. In hindsight I probably needed to give the ball to somebody else based on the week that he had gone through.”
Coleman dislocated his non-shooting shoulder Monday and was limited to four minutes in the win Thursday against Colorado in which he came off the bench for the first time all season.
The senior took on a more typical workload Saturday, gutting it out for 32 minutes, tallying three points, three assists, three turnovers and three rebounds in his return to the starting 5.
Miller estimated Coleman is 80 percent healthy.
“He really gave us everything he had this weekend when he didn’t have to,” Miller said. “The safe move would be ‘coach I can’t play this weekend’ but he helped us. Without him, I don’t know if we would have won both games. Maybe we wouldn’t have won either.”
Perhaps the most promising development was that Arizona got contributions from pretty much its entire bench, which notched 27 points. Arizona largest lead came at the 11:53 mark in the second half after Ryan Luther (8 points, 2-2 3PT) and Dylan Smith (11 points, 3-3 3PT) sank three straight 3s to put UA up 57-51.
Miller lauded Smith’s perimeter defense while Luther made a key defensive play of his own, forcing a jump ball with 34.3 seconds left in regulation, the possession arrow pointing in Arizona’s favor.
Ira Lee chipped in with six points, a steal and a block.
“Like we’ve talked about from the beginning, we’re going to win as a team and lose as a team,” Miller said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to be a product of a great individual performance.”
But Arizona was unable to string stops together all game, as Utah turned that a six-point deficit into a six-point lead.
Allen drove for two layups and Tillman poured in two 3s to put the Utes up 61-60 with 8:53 left. Barefield buried his fifth 3 of the game to make it a four-point Utah advantage, then Tillman added two free throws to make it 68-62 with 5:32 left.
“We had a stretch in the second half where we blew about four or five assignments,” Miller said. “Every time that we missed our assignment, it resulted in a basket or a 3. That’s the sign of a good offensive team.”
Jeter scored twice underneath to cut Arizona’s deficit to two, including a thunderous dunk off a nifty bounce pass from Coleman.
Barefield then picked up his fourth foul on a drive by Coleman, who split a pair of free throws to cut Utah’s lead to 68-67. The momentum was shifting in Arizona’s favor, culminating when the Wildcats played their best defense of the day by forcing a shot-clock violation.
But Barefield quieted the crowd on the next possession by finding a rolling Jayce Johnson for an easy slam to put Utah up 70-67.
Randolph made two free throws, then Brandon Williams added two more to give Arizona the lead he drew Barefield’s fifth and final foul. Allen responded with two free throws with Barefield on the bench and Luther split a one-and-one to tie it at 72 with 1:06 left, the final points of regulation.
The Wildcats finished with the edge in rebounding (30-26), points in the paint (36-34) and turnovers (15-18). They are now 91-4 at home since the start of the 2013-14 season, the best mark in the nation.
“It’s important, it’s something we’ve done well and we did it well this weekend,” Miller said. “You want to win both at home and split on the road. If you do that you’ll be in contention for whether it be a conference championship or a great season. I know how hard it is to win on the road and I think this year’s gonna be hard to win at home, too.”
Utah, which beat ASU on the road Thursday, came out hot Saturday, sprinting to a 20-10 lead after back-to-back 3s by Barefield and Both Gach.
But Arizona answered with a 9-0 run, going toe-to-toe with a Utah offense that ranks 28th in the nation.
“They are one of the best offensive teams that we’ve faced,” Miller said. “We knew that before the game and I’m thrilled we were able to score, because if we weren’t able to score today we wouldn’t have been able to beat them.”