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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The Comeback ‘Cats (w/ video)

    Jamelle Horne, left, and Jordan Hill celebrate a 96-90 overtime win against Houston in McKale Center on Saturday. The Wildcats scored 13 points in the final minute of regulation, and didnt allow a Cougar field goal in overtime.
    Jamelle Horne, left, and Jordan Hill celebrate a 96-90 overtime win against Houston in McKale Center on Saturday. The Wildcats scored 13 points in the final minute of regulation, and didn’t allow a Cougar field goal in overtime.

    Arizona 96, Houston 90 (OT)

    Arizona trailed 85-75 with 52.6 seconds remaining in Saturday evening’s contest against Houston, and thousands of fans exited McKale Center thinking the game – and possibly the season – would be over. A double-digit defeat to a nonconference opponent would have all but nailed the coffin on the Wildcats’ 2008-09 campaign.

    But when the buzzer sounded to end regulation, Jamelle Horne – a two-time scapegoat in close losses earlier this season – held the ball eager to shed Arizona’s recent history of late-game meltdowns.

    For once this season, it was the Wildcats (12-8, 2-5 Pacific 10 Conference) who executed down the stretch and overcame a mental roller coaster, sending what looked like a double-digit loss into overtime. With an 8-2 UA run in overtime, a suddenly supercharged McKale Center witnessed the once-labeled Cardiac ‘Cats emerge as the Comeback ‘Cats.

    Karma at its best.

    Smiles, fist pumps and high-fives stormed the floor after a dramatic finish – this time for the Wildcats.

    “”Wow,”” UA interim head coach Russ Pennell said to begin his post-game news conference. “”I told guys in the locker room I felt like the late great Jack Buck. I don’t believe what I just saw.””

    For the first 39 minutes, the reeling Wildcats faced the harsh reality of a four-game losing streak, which would have been the program’s longest skid since 1983. Houston led by as many as 15 points thanks to its fast-paced offense.

    Having already suffered four last-possession losses this season, including their last two games against USC and ASU, the Wildcats finished on the winning side of a nail-biter.

    “”I think you go through a basketball season, you’re going to lose some tough ones and win some that kind of come out of nowhere,”” Pennell said. “”Today, it just seemed like the ball bounced our way.””

    Added UA point guard Nic Wise: “”It is about time. The USC game was a tough one. It is about time, and it’s a big relief for us.””

    Houston’s Kelvin Lewis made two free throws with 52 seconds remaining to put the Cougars up 85-75. Four seconds later, Wise drove down the floor, pulled up, sank a 3-pointer, and Horne fouled on the ensuing possession to stop the clock and force the Cougars to hit free throws.

    Desmond Wade made both shots, extending Houston’s lead back to nine points with 43 seconds remaining in regulation.

    Houston missed three free throws down the stretch, while Wise made a layup, Jordan Hill sank a hook shot and Wise eventually drained the game-tying 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining.

    Arizona scored 13 points in the final minute of regulation.

    Suddenly, the computer screens on press row refreshed with blank Microsoft Word documents. It was an entirely new ball game, igniting a raucous atmosphere despite the empty seats.

    “”Biggest thing I could say is that we never quit,”” Budinger said. “”When everyone thought we lost the game, we just kept on fighting.””

    Added Hill: “”We just never gave up. This is a team that likes to fight. Like I said before, we were down by nine or 10 points with a minute left in the game – we just kept fighting. Once we got into overtime, we just got together and was like, ‘Hey, we’re back in it.'””

    After erasing the 10-point deficit, Arizona used its surge of momentum in overtime, particularly on the defensive end. The Wildcats limited Houston to 0-for-10 from the field in the five-minute span while making free throws of their own.

    Arizona made 6-of-7 from the charity stripe in the extra period, highlighted by Hill’s three-point play to put the Wildcats up 91-88.

    This time Horne was the one fouled with 26.9 seconds remaining in overtime, sending the UA forward to the free throw line to make it a two-possession game. He made the first shot, extending UA’s lead to four.

    One fan held up a sign that read: “”I still believe in our Cats,”” which received a standing ovation on McKale Center’s jumbotron.

    “”I just told them to hang in there and that it’s a five-minute game so let’s steal, let’s take it,”” said Houston’s head coach, Tom Penders. “”We just couldn’t hit shots.””

    Hill and Wise both registered career highs in points with 30 and 23, respectively. Budinger added 15 points and nine boards.

    “”I hope it’s a great snapshot for us, that you’re always in games there’s always a way, even when it looks like there’s little hope,”” Pennell said. “”We’re good enough, we’re not the typical Arizona team that’s ranked in the top-5.

    “”But we’re also not a bad team that can’t win games,”” Pennell added. “”I think that we don’t need to count ourselves out.””

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