Josiah Turner sped down the court, the final seconds ticking away, Arizona trailing by two.
Dribbling down the right side of the court, he picked up a huge screen from Solomon Hill near the 3-point line to shed one Washington Husky, stepped inside another defender and reached for the hoop, ready to tie the game with a driving layup.
“It was an easy-looking layup,” said Washington’s Terrence Ross, “and I was worried.”
And then Washington’s Tony Wroten came flying in and swatted the ball away from the rim.
The Wildcats lost 69-67 on their White Out night at McKale Center in front of a national ESPN audience. Instead of getting a chance at overtime, Arizona lost a chance at a needed victory for its NCAA resume.
Worse yet, Arizona lost forward Kevin Parrom for the rest of the season because of a broken bone in his right foot.
“I told the guys, one of the things you learn in a situation like this is how important it is to stay together, to be connected, to continue to do the things we would do if we had won tonight,” coach Sean Miller said.
“That’s always that answer. It’s not as easy because criticism comes with losing, but we have a lot of good things going. I thought the last four minutes showed a lot of fight and resolve.”
Arizona trailed by 11 points with 5:43 to go, but Hill carried the Wildcats to the finish line. He scored 10 of his career-high 28 points after the Huskies led 60-49, capped by a game-tying 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining.
And then Turner made a freshman mistake.
Arizona clawed back with the help of a full-court press, and Turner was still in press-mode as he stepped in front of C.J. Wilcox in the backcourt. The players collided. Officials called a blocking foul on Turner.
“Of course, we don’t want to put ourselves in position to take the charge, but that’s all part of the comeback and a fast-paced frenetic couple of minutes,” Miller said.
After Wilcox made both free throws with 5.3 seconds left, Turner took the inbounds pass and executed a play that Arizona works on in late-game situations. As Miller said earlier in the week, Turner is going to be option “1A” in these kinds of scenarios.
“If you want to ask me if I should have called a timeout, I can’t call a better play than a 3-inch shot that got blocked,” Miller said.
“(Turner) made a great play. Drove it hard, had a chance to get a foul, had a chance to get an and-one, had a chance to make the shot. It didn’t work out, but it was good drive by Josiah.”
Many things haven’t worked out this season for Arizona, often when it comes to the end of games.
The Wildcats lost by two at home to Oregon on Jan. 14, lost by one at Colorado a week later, and then had the Washington heartbreaker a week after that. UA is 0-4 in games decided by four points or less.
“It’s not about winning the close games,” Hill said. “It’s about us doing the little things, so it won’t have to be a close game.”
Washington is a tough matchup for the Cats. The Huskies have 7-footer Aziz N’Diaye in the middle, a defensive security blanket near the hoop. Washington’s perimeter players trusted him to affect drives into the lane while they stayed at home against Arizona’s 3-point shooters.
UA was a mere 4 of 13 from 3-point range one game after going 15 of 26 from behind the arc.
Long and rangy and athletic, Washington crashed the glass against the undersized Cats for 18 offensive rebounds.
“You really felt that in the game,” Miller said of the Huskies’ rebounding. “They were bigger, faster, more physical throughout the game. It wore us down.”
With the close losses and the injury to Parrom, you wonder if the Wildcats are worn down emotionally, too.
Just a few nights ago, Miller said there was a lot of basketball left to be played — and that the Wildcats, at that point, seemed to be surging.
But there’s not that much season remaining — just the back half of the conference schedule in the regular season — and the home stretch doesn’t seem so enticing with the Wildcats needing to make a run just to get into bubble range of an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats’ RPI, which slipped to No. 72 last week, will only get worse after a home split against the Washington scores. Worse yet, the Cats are still without a signature victory, having gone 0-6 against teams with better RPI numbers — Gonzaga, San Diego State, Florida, Mississippi State, Oregon and Colorado. (Washington was No. 89.)
Life gets more difficult this week with a road trip to Cal and Stanford.
“We don’t have a big margin of error, and it’s been that way since day one,” Miller said.
“We have to have that pride where we can go on the road and steal one that maybe we’re not supposed to. Each loss can strip you of more and more confidence, but that’s our job to not let that confidence leave us.”