TUCSON, Ariz. (AP)—The Washington State Cougars are no longer upstarts.
Not after they defeated 20th-ranked Arizona 72-66 on Thursday night to complete their first season sweep of the Wildcats since 1983. By knocking off the once-mighty Wildcats, the 18th-ranked Cougars (18-4, 7-3 Pac-10) have stamped themselves as legitimate Pac-10 title contenders.
“A lot of you guys are surprised, but I’m not surprised at all,” senior forward Ivory Clark told reporters. “I know what kind of team we have in that locker room, and those guys don’t like to lose anymore.”
Washington State won for only the fourth time in 48 games against Arizona coach Lute Olson. Olson stocks his roster with touted high school stars. The Cougars seem to sign anyone willing to spend four years in Pullman, Wash.
“They have McDonald’s All-Americans, and we’re just average guys,” said Clark, who led the Cougars with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor.
The Wildcats (14-7, 5-5) apparently agree with that assessment, even after being swept by the Cougars.
“They’re a good team, but at the end of the day I still feel like we’re a better team,” Arizona point guard Mustafa Shakur said. “Not to take anything away from Washington State, but I still feel like we’re better than a lot of the teams we’re losing to.”
Arizona, which lost for the sixth time in eight games, is sixth in the Pac-10, three rungs below Washington State. Chase Budinger led the Wildcats with 19 points.
The Cougars were clearly the better—and tougher—team on Thursday night.
They blew an eight-point second half lead and fell behind 57-56 with 7:44 to go. But the Cougars went on an 8-0 run and then kept the Wildcats at bay with their aggressive defense, holding Arizona without a field goal for more than six minutes down the stretch.
Arizona drew within 66-64 when the Cougars’ Daven Harmeling hit a 3-pointer with 19 seconds remaining.
The Wildcats inexplicably left Harmeling, a 42.7 percent 3-point shooter, all alone as they rushed to double-team Kyle Weaver in the paint. Weaver wheeled and dished to Harmeling on the right wing.
“Him catching and shooting it and seeing that ball go in was a good feeling,” Weaver said.
It was the sort of heads-up play the Cougars have been making all season.
“They did the same kind of job they have done all year round,” Olson said.
After the Wildcats’ Marcus Williams made a pair of free throws, Harmeling scored on a breakaway layup and drew a foul with 7 seconds left. Harmeling finished with 12 points.
The Wildcats were coming off a 92-64 drubbing by No. 4 North Carolina, Olson’s worst home loss in 24 seasons at Arizona.
Arizona started freshman Jordan Hill in place of leading scorer Williams, who sprained his right ankle against North Carolina Saturday. Williams entered the game midway through the first half and finished with 12 points.
Arizona missed its first six 3-point shots after going 1-for-23 from beyond the arc against North Carolina. For the game, the Wildcats shot 21.1 percent (4-for-19) from 3-point range, and missed two that would have tied the game in the final minutes.
The Wildcats were hammering the Cougars inside—they outscored them 32-12 in the paint—but kept settling for long-range shots.
Washington State, which beat Arizona 77-73 in overtime Jan. 6 at Pullman, came to the desert looking for its first season sweep of the Wildcats since 1982-83, the year before Olson arrived in Tucson. That was also the last time the Cougars finished ahead of the Wildcats in the Pac-10.
“We are so thankful for the position we are in,” first-year coach Tony Bennett said. “I tell the guys they are representing a lot of things to a lot of people. The guys really believe in themselves.
“They may not come from Cadillac (high school) programs, but when the ball is tipped that doesn’t matter, and what it says on the front of your jersey doesn’t matter.”