Sat Feb 19 09:52pm EST
In a game in which the Pac-10's two highest scoring teams combined for 173 points and numerous electrifying highlights, of course it was a defensive play that turned out to be the difference.
Trailing first-place Arizona by a point with 2.2 seconds remaining, Washington's Darnell Gant caught an inbound pass in the paint and appeared to be in position to score the game-winning basket. Instead Derrick Williams came from off the ball and made an emphatic game-saving block, preserving an 87-86 Arizona victory and strengthening his case for first-team All-American honors.
Williams finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, but it was the sophomore forward's blocked shot that will resonate. The only question was whether Gant's shot was on its way down before the Arizona sophomore swatted it away.
Said Gant: "I thought it was goaltending."
Said Williams: "I believe if we were at Washington, they might have called that. Good thing we were at home."
As a result of that play, the Pac-10 title chase is down to two teams and neither of them are preseason favorite Washington. Arizona (23-4, 12-2) leads UCLA (19-7, 10-3) by a game in the loss column with their second of two meetings just seven days away in Los Angeles.
For Washington (18-8, 10-5), the loss was its fourth in its past five road games, but this one was far more encouraging than the previous three. The Huskies rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit to briefly take a 72-68 lead thanks to unselfish passing, energetic defense and relentless offensive rebounding.
Isaiah Thomas had 12 points and 9 assists and Matthew Bryan-Amaning had 18 of his 24 points in the second half, sparking the second-half comeback. The Huskies also forced 18 Arizona turnovers, taking advantage of sloppy ball handling from Williams and Arizona point guard MoMo Jones.
Falling one point short on the road leaves the Huskies in a slightly precarious position entering the final two weeks of Pac-10 play.
They look like a team capable of winning the Pac-10 tournament or making an NCAA tournament run, but their resume is mostly bereft of quality wins. Aside from a home win over Arizona and a road win at UCLA, the Huskies don't have another victory over an RPI top 80 team, though they've played lost to Kentucky, Texas A&M and Arizona by a combined seven points.
What's promising for Washington is its final three Pac-10 games of the season are in Seattle, where the Huskies have been basically unbeatable this season.
If the Huskies can beat Washington State, USC and UCLA and then make a good showing in the Pac-10 tournament, there's still an opportunity for them to play their way into a favorable NCAA tournament seed.