Sean Miller: ‘The toughest teams survive’
Arizona Wildcats sophomore Derrick Williams didn’t even know the shot went in.
He just drives to the hoop as Texas’ Jordan Hamilton crashes into his legs, flips up a shot with his right hand, braces for the fall and hopes for the best.
With the game hanging in the balance.
A berth in the Sweet 16 vs. Duke on the line.
And the shot goes in.
“Surprised it went in,” Williams said in the postgame interview. “Glad it went in.”
Then, Williams made one more shot go in — the free throw for a 70-69 lead.
And then Arizona forced a slashing J’Covan Brown into a wild shot. And then time ran out while Williams — of course — was right there to prevent Gary Johnson from attempting a last-second shot after grabbing the rebound.
All this after the Wildcats forced Texas into a turnover — a five-second violation — as the Longhorns tried to in-bound the ball. And they only did that after coach Rick Barnes, somewhat questionably, called timeout with 14.5 seconds left and his team up two points. Shouldn’t he have just waited for Arizona to foul?
Whatever. That’s Texas’ problem.
Hey, is this fun or what?
I mean, what’s been Arizona’s margin of error in the past two games? About half a second?
UA is making its most satisfying run in the NCAA Tournament since Salim Stoudamire’s dagger against Oklahoma State in the 2005 Sweet 16, and it never hurts to have the luck of a lottery winner and the toughness of a backstreet brawler.
“In this tournament,” coach Sean Miller told his team in the locker room (video here), “the toughest teams survive. Nastiness is required. And I’m going to tell you right now, to a man, we earned that win.”
For the record the margin of error has three points: 77-75 vs. Memphis, 70-69 vs. Texas.
Yes, Arizona, has Superman — that’s what his teammates are increasingly calling Williams — but to a man, the Wildcats have needed every single contribution. Big or small. One Shining Moment … or completely lost in the box score.
The latest heroes not named Williams:
Solomon Hill. Best game ever. Sixteen points and eight rebounds, spinning his way through the Longhorns defense.
“He had a lot of post moves and a lot of NBA post moves, put-backs, rebounds,” Williams said. “If we didn’t have him playing aggressive and hard tonight, we would have lost this game.”
Kyryl Natyazhko. An invaluable defensive presence as Arizona essentially battled Texas to a draw on the boards and — voila! — turned freshman star Tristan Thompson invisible.
Brendon Lavender. Back-to-back 3-pointers in the first half.
Jordin Mayes. Best game ever. The freshman hit 4 of 4 3-pointers en route to a career-high 16 points.
It is the improbable that makes all the Madness possible.
“Not too many people had us winning this game,” Hill said. “I thought as a team if we pulled together and everybody came through with our deep rotation of 10 men … you could see it wore them out.”
With finishes like this, Arizona might be wearing out its fans. Go back to the Washington game in the Pac-10 tournament final. Have the Wildcats ever played three consecutive games that were still undecided with less than 1 second to play?
And yet it’s real … and it’s spectacular.
The plot couldn’t be juicier.
No. 1 seed Duke awaits at 6:45 p.m. on Thursday in Anaheim in a rematch of the 2001 national championship game. The Blue Devils opened as a double-digit favorite, which is perfect for the chip-on-their-broad-shoulders Wildcats.
“Today everybody had us losing. And we all took that to heart,” Williams said after beating Texas.
“You never want to be the underdog, but today we were the underdog, and we wanted to prove that we could beat anybody. We have more games to win. Two down, four more to go. That’s all I can say about that.”
Chances are, before this ride ends, Williams and the Wildcats will have a lot more to say about that.
More from the TucsonCitizen.com Sports Network:
Steve Rivera: Sean Elliott remembers his games against Duke
Steve Rivera: Lute on Arizona-Duke: It should be another great game
Javier Morales: Arizona Wildcats finally get rematch with Duke 10 years later
Christopher Wuensch: What was a-Twitter as Arizona beat Texas?
Arizona Republic columnist Paola Boivin: Unlikely contributors key part of Arizona’s win over Texas