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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Commentary: ‘Cats save best for Bruins

The big yellow blimp at halftime sputtered in aimless directions, unable to fly on an empty tank of gas.

The Arizona Express, as symbolically nicknamed, was bound to crash had a few fans not caught the promotional remote-controlled flyer carrying free tickets to tomorrow’s USC game.

But nobody touched the tickets. Nobody wanted to sit through another unimpressionable showing or another 40 minutes closer to a postseason of weightlifting.

Could that halftime score of 39-29 have been the tipping point for Arizona’s 2010-11 season?

“”Yes,”” UA coach Sean Miller said. “”I thought we were in that awkward stage, where ‘uh-oh, we could go down by 20.’ But maybe it’s a testament to all the things we’ve been through.””

Just when its tank dripped to empty and effort stalled to a flat line, Arizona scrambled together another gutsy effort at home to fend off the once-mighty Bruins of UCLA, 78-73.

Rejuvenated? Back on track? The bus is warming up for Staples Center and next week’s Pacific 10 Conference Tournament.

Grab your tickets for tomorrow’s home season-finale against USC.

“”I have such a strong feeling for our fans that they’re watching a team that’s 14-14 in early March and stuck with us at halftime,”” Miller said. “”I thought it was our best win of the season. To be down by double digits with as much as we’ve been through this season, it’s very gratifying.””

The Wildcats executed big defensive stops when it mattered, limiting UCLA to 33 percent from the floor in the second half after giving up 60 percent in the first 20 minutes.

Give credit to Jamelle Horne’s seven defensive rebounds after the UA forward sat the bench at tipoff.

Give credit to Nic Wise’s late clutch shots and all 12 of his points scored in the second half.

Give credit to McKale Center’s 14,407 fans for evolving from a yawner University of California, Riverside crowd to a classic UCLA one.

But most of all, the duo of Kyle Fogg (26 points) and Momo Jones (16 points) clawed the Wildcats back to 15-14 overall, 9-8 in the Pac-10 and 100 percent confidence down the stretch.

“”We just knew we didn’t want to go out with a loss,”” said Jones, still riding the wave of a buzzer-beater against Stanford last week. “”We were playing lackadaisical, but we came back in the second half and did what we did.

“”Last week was a phenomenal win. Coming into today, I know it gave our team a lot of momentum, but me personally it gave me a fire that I’ve never felt before,”” he added. “”Coming into the game, I knew I just wanted to play my best, give it my all. Second half we just came out with a no-lose attitude.””

The seams unfolded once enemy target No. 1 committed a flagrant foul.

Nikola Dragovic, the guy who raised his hands and unleashed yells after his made 3-pointers, looked stunned after the referee caught him grabbing Derrick Williams before the ball came in bounds.

His bow of disappointment shifted from a glare at the floor to a blank stare into the game clock, which read :14.

Williams, the same guy who played seven minutes with four fouls and a bruised quad, somehow hit both free throws.

Williams began the game 1-for-5 from the free throw line, which he let “”bother him,”” Miller said.

Ever so quietly, the Pac-10 Freshman Player of the Year front-runner still managed to grab a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards.

“”We’ve grown on each other, we know how each other plays,”” Jones said. ””We have a great relationships together. Now that we know each other we have a bond. It’s not a one-man show, we just have to do it all together.””

The bond was evident in the post-game press conference, when Arizona’s ‘Small Three’ took the podium as the fun-to-love players that even the 80-year season ticket-holders stayed up until 10:47 p.m. to watch.

Fogg and Wise fielded questions from the media, but it was Jones who sat in the middle and became the go-to guy with all the answers.

Just as he will in this team’s future.


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