TUCSON, Ariz. (AP)—Sean Singletary remembers Virginia’s last trip to the McKale Center, a 30-point loss to mighty Arizona in November 2005.
“They blew us out,” he said. “The program is different. We’ve come a long way.”
The 6-foot Singletary is a big reason. Battling a flu bug, the senior point guard scored 24 points to lead Virginia to a 75-72 victory over No. 17 Arizona on Saturday night.
Singletary, a three-year captain, made two free throws with 1:22 remaining to break a 69-69 tie, then hit a 15-foot jumper to put the Cavaliers up 73-69 with 39 seconds to go.
Singletary hit only 6-of-19 shots from the floor but made all 11 of his free throws. He also had eight assists.
“He’s a special, special player,” Virginia coach Dave Leitao said. “He was gassed five minutes into the game. He looked dizzy but didn’t let that deter him. He didn’t start out well but went into attack mode in the second half.”
Virginia (3-0) knocked off a ranked opponent on the road for the second straight season.
The Cavaliers looked nothing like the squad that lost to Arizona 81-51 on the same floor two years ago in Leitao’s third game.
“Our program is building,” Leitao said. “Playing against a ranked team, especially in this building, makes this win very special.”
Arizona lost a November home game for the first time since 1978. But the Wildcats have dropped five of the last seven games in their once-impregnable desert den.
Jeff Jones hit five 3-pointers to score 15 points for the Cavaliers, who were 12-for-21 (57.1 percent) from beyond the arc.
Jerryd Bayless led Arizona with 21 points in his second college game, and his 3-pointer with 25 seconds left pulled the Wildcats to within 73-72.
But Bayless’ turnover in the final seconds helped sink the Wildcats.
After a timeout, Virginia’s Mamadi Diane failed to inbound the ball in five seconds, turning the ball over to Arizona with 23 seconds remaining.
Bayless tried to save a long inbounds pass from going into the backcourt, apparently not realizing he could cross the center court stripe to retrieve it. His wild pass was intercepted by Virginia senior Adrian Joseph, who hit a pair of free throws to put the Cavaliers up 75-72.
“The last play comes down on me tonight,” Bayless said. “I messed up and that determined the game.”
Arizona (1-1) had the ball with 20 seconds to go but failed to attempt a 3-pointer that could have tied the game.
“We took the lead and we did not fold,” Leitao said. “I’m really proud of how we stuck together.”
It was Arizona’s second game under interim coach Kevin O’Neill, who replaced Lute Olson when the Hall of Famer went on a personal leave of absence.
Arizona was coming off a shaky 76-69 victory over Northern Arizona, and the Wildcats had trouble adjusting to a tougher opponent from the storied Atlantic Coast Conference.
Early on, the Wildcats left Virginia’s snipers alone behind the arc, and the Cavaliers responded with a flurry of 3-pointers. Virginia jumped out to a 15-6 lead after six minutes, and all the points came on 3-pointers.
“I’ve told our guys that if someone has the ball two feet beyond the (3-point line), it is like a lay-up,” O’Neill said. “This is not the NBA. We need to take their airspace away and get in their face.”
Jones hit four 3-pointers in the first 8 minutes. The freshman had missed the two 3-pointers he attempted in his first two college games.
Virginia shot 9-of-13 (69.2 percent) from beyond the arc in the first half.
The Wildcats had more turnovers (13) than buckets (11) at intermission.
“We lost the game in the first half with 13 turnovers and lack of defense,” O’Neill said.