Arizona Runs Out of Luck Against Connecticut

Connecticut's Alex Oriakhi gets past Arizona's Soloman Hill for a dunk in the Huskies' 65-63 win over the Wildcats to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament Final 4. (Photo by Mark Terrill-AP)

Final Score: Connecticut 65 Arizona 63

Arizona, the Pac-10 regular season champions, finally ran out of miracles, Derrick Williams ran into foul trouble, and eventually the Wildcats came up just short. Williams' last second heroics had won both of the ‘Cats first two tournament games, and his career best game got them into the "Elite 8".

Connecticut, after a pair of double digit margin wins, upset West region second seed San Diego St. to reach today's quarterfinal contest, and relied again on their ability to make runs in physical games to wrest control after fast starts in both halves by the ‘Cats.

Arizona had the opportunity to tie or win at the end, but opted for the win instead of the afternoon's second overtime game, and couldn't connect. As a result, it was Connecticut that got the trip to Houston next week for the NCAA Tournament Final Four.

A four minute Arizona scoring drought that coincided with Williams sitting on the bench led to Connecticut wiping out the ‘Cats fast start, and a quick third foul resulted in Williams watching the Huskies pull out to a 7 point halftime lead that would prove to require just a little too much effort to overcome.

Williams played the entire second half without picking up another foul, and wound up matching the Huskies' Kemba Walker for game high scoring honors, as both had 20 points.

Arizona couldn't match Jeremy Lamb though, who added 19 points, including his last two off a crucial steal three minutes from the finish.

The Wildcats roared out to a 9-1 lead, and it was balanced, as Williams, Jesse Perry, LaMont "Momo" Jones, and Kyle Fogg all got off to a fast start.

Williams' three pointer six minutes into the game gave Arizona a 14-6 lead, but after the ‘Cats had opened an 18-11 lead on a Jones jumper, Williams picked up his second foul, and had to sit down.

The Arizona offense lost some of its' initial speed as a result, and the Huskies crept back within 16-14 by midway in the first half. A 9-0 UConn run, capped by a three pointer, and then a steal and layin, both by Shabazz Napier, wiped out everything Arizona had accomplished, and put the Huskies ahead 19-18 with just less than 8 minutes left in the first half.

Jordin Mayes broke a 4 minute Arizona scoring drought that coincided with Williams' absence, but Williams picked up his third foul seconds after returning with just under 6 minutes left until halftime.

Connecticut's advantage with Williams absent eventually grew to 22-7, on a three pointer by Walker as the shot clock wound down, and the Huskies took a 32-25 halftime lead.

Walker's three pointer gave him 12 points in the first half, and Jeremy Lamb and Napier both had 7, while Williams and Jones were both held to just 6 points, and no other ‘Cat had as many.

Arizona trailed Duke by 6 at the half as well, and rallied after the break again.

Perry put a personal 6-0 run on, and pulled Arizona within 34-31 less than three minutes into the second half, and Fogg's three pointer tied it a minute and a half later.

Williams' basket got the ‘Cats briefly back on top, 37-36, but the Huskies answered with a 7-0 run, capped by Lamb's three pointer, to go back ahead 43-37.

Napier took a pass from Walker, and knocked down a three pointer for a 50-41 lead, but as the midway mark in the half passed, Jones, Perry, and Williams all scored, making it only a three point game.

UConn's Alex Oriahki got his fourth foul with almost 9 minutes left, and Perry's dunk made it a 12-2 ‘Cat run, and put Arizona back ahead, 53-52 with 7:17 left.

Lamb and Walker answered, as the ‘Cats began to show some signs of wearing down, and the Huskies took a 58-55 lead into the last 5 minutes.

Williams had to settle for a missed long three pointer due to shot clock issues, but so did Lamb. The difference was an offensive rebound and putback by Oriakhi. And then a steal and dunk by Lamb, making it an 8-0 UConn run, for a 62-55 lead as the clock wound under the three minute mark.

Fogg's three pointer made it a one possession, 63-60 game with a minute and a half to go, but Walker answered with a 16 foot jumper on the other end.

Jamele Horne's three pointer, followed by a UConn miss, set up Arizona's shot at the win. But rather than chance overtime, the ‘Cats took two three point shots, first by Williams, and then by Horne, and missed both of them.

Arizona coach Sean Miller may well have "played for the win" because of concerns over the amount of energy his team had already expended making their multiple rallys.

Outside shooting eluded Arizona, as they made only 4 of 21 (19 %), after being only 2 for 14 with 6 minutes left.

Perry finished with 11 points for the ‘Cats, and Fogg 11, while the Huskies held Jones to only 8 points, and also only 2 assists.

Despite being out-rebounded 39-28, UConn still managed to get to the line more than Arizona, and the Huskies made 14 of 18, 78%, led by Walker's 5 of 6.

Arizona finished the season 30-8, while Connecticut (30-9), who finished tied for 9th. thru 11th. in the Big East, has now won 9 post season elimination games in a row under coach Jim Calhoun's guidance, and is headed for their fourth "Final 4" as a result.

Arizona was the last team from the west still alive, and it was Connecticut, from about as far east as you can go, who traveled west to Anaheim, and eliminated the top teams from the west, from the Mt. West and Pac-10 Conferences.

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com

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