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Anatomy of a game-winner: A breakdown of Jaylen Wells' 3 to help WSU topple Arizona

Feb. 28—PULLMAN — The play that engineered Washington State's colossal upset of Arizona last weekend, Jaylen Wells' four-point play from the corner in crunch time, wasn't supposed to happen.

The Cougar who secured the offensive rebound and kickout pass, senior wing Andrej Jakimovski, strayed from his responsibility on the play. His job was to get back on defense, in case Arizona grabbed the rebound and WSU needed to foul to stop the clock.

"But then I was like, 'Let me get at least to the free-throw line,' " Jakimovski said, "because, 20 seconds on the clock, all we need is three. And if you miss the shot, there's a chance that you can get an offensive rebound."

No need. Jakimovski came crashing in, grabbed the loose ball and delivered it to Wells, who canned one of the best shots in program history. He knocked down the ensuing free throw to hand the lead to the Cougars, who never relinquished it, walking out of the McKale Center with a 77-74 win for first place in the Pac-12, their second victory over the Wildcats this season.

Here is a walk-through of the play and how it came together — with perspectives of those who watched it live and those who equipped Wells to make the shot in the first place.

"I don't even remember, to be honest," WSU guard Jabe Mullins said of the play coach Kyle Smith had drawn up. "Like, it was so loud in there. I think really only the guys that were on the court, in the huddle, knew what was going on, to be honest."

48 seconds on the game clock, 27 on the shot clock: WSU guard Myles Rice crosses half court and dribbles to the right corner, where Jakimovski comes curling around a wing screen from forward Isaac Jones. But before Jakimovski springs open, Rice tries to catch defender Pelle Larson napping. No luck.

42 seconds on the game clock, 22 on the shot clock: Larson shuts off the drive from Rice, who dribbles back out to the left wing, where he tries to reset the play. He passes to Wells, who offers a head fake and one dribble inside the arc before he shuffles it back to Rice.

37 seconds on the game clock, 17 on the shot clock: Rice finally gets a chance to reset. He gets a screen from Jones, whose defender, Keshad Johnson, switches onto Rice.

32 seconds on the game clock, 12 on the shot clock: Johnson's 6-foot-9 frame is enough to bother Rice, who rises for a 3 at the top of the key. As that happens, Jones sets a pindown screen for Wells. Arizona switches, leaving UA guard Jaden Bradley on Wells and Larsen on Jones, who fights his way into the lane to try and rebound the ball.

It clangs off the back iron and off the front rim.

"We missed the shot, and the ball was just bouncing around," Watts said. "And then I just (saw) Andrej get the ball."

"Myles missed the shot, and then I was like, 'OK, I'm close to the ball,' " Jakimovski said. "So I was just trying to get the rebound."

30 seconds on the game clock: As the ball caroms off the top rim, WSU center Oscar Cluff battles UA center Oumar Ballo for position under the basket. Ballo uses a slight push-off on Cluff, but the ball's bounce off the front rim seems to throw off the timing of Ballo, who squeezes his hands together to grab the rebound — but the ball has slipped past them.

Meanwhile, Wells is also heading to the basket, trying to grab the rebound. His defender, Bradley, follows him there. The ball falls loose and Jakimovski jockeys into the lane, where he grabs it. He loses it for a half-second, thanks to a swipe from Bradley — who has abandoned Wells in an effort to snare the rebound.

As Jakimovski fights off Ballo and Bradley to secure it again, Wells realizes Bradley has left him, giving him an opportunity to drift back to the corner, all alone.

"I remember the scrum, the rebound," Smith said. "I'm yelling for a foul. It was a loose ball. It looked like he kind of got fouled."

"I remember thinking, great rebound," said WSU play-by-play broadcaster Matt Chazanow, who was calling the game courtside, on the opposite end of the floor from where Wells hit the shot. "Jaki's rebound is as impactful as the make. It doesn't happen without that. He pulled that down in traffic."

"I lost the ball, and then I was like, 'I need to get the ball back,' " Jakimovski said with a laugh. "I knew we needed a 3. I saw Jaylen in the corner, and I just passed it to him."

27 seconds on the game clock, 19 on the shot clock (it resets to 20 after an offensive rebound): As Jakimovski pivots out of the crowd, Wells has repositioned himself in the corner. Jakimovski throws it there, where Johnson, watching the play unfold from the top of the key — after guarding Rice's wayward shot — realizes he needs to close out to Wells.

"And then I saw Jaylen going in the corner," Mullins said. "I was like, 'Pass it to Jaylen. Pass it to Jaylen.' "

26 seconds on the game clock, 18 on the shot clock: Wells rises up for the shot as Johnson jumps into him.

"Jaylen shot it, and I really didn't think he was gonna make it," WSU freshman guard Isaiah Watts said. "I'm like, 'Bro, he can't see the hoop.' Johnson is 6-9, with long arms, and he just threw it up there."

24.6 on the game clock, 17 on the shot clock: The ball hits the far rim and falls through the net.

"I caught the ball, I shot it — I didn't see the rim," Wells said.

"I kind of got blocked out by the official," Smith said. "But I did see the ball, and I saw it go in."

"I almost want to say I saw it go in, but he kind of crumpled after the release," Chazanow said. "He got unquestionably fouled there on the descent into the cylinder."

25 seconds on the game clock, 17 on the shot clock: Wells goes to the ground, facedown with his torso in the first row of the crowd, as a nearby official blows his whistle to signal the shot counts.

"I was just thrilled," Smith said.

"I was laying on the ground," Wells said. "The dude was sitting on me. I look up and I hear someone in the crowd go, 'Yeah, dawg!' I was like, 'Oh, I made it.' I got up and my teammates came to me like, 'You made it.' I did not know I made it."

"I started running toward him," Jakimovski said, referring to Wells. "I was like, 'You made the shot.' He was like, 'No way, I made the shot?' I was like, "Yes, yes you made the shot.' "

"I was like, 'Oh my God!' " Watts said. "I was on the bench, but I was like, on the court. They was worried I was gonna get (a technical foul). I was so excited. I just didn't know what to do with myself."

"I was trying to find him, and I couldn't find him," Mullins said. "I realized Johnson was laying on top of him. And then he got up, and I was like, 'No way. That's so crazy.' "

Wells goes on to sink the free throw for the lead, WSU secures a stop on the other end and Wells hits two more free throws for the final margin.

"I was watching the late, late, late edition of SportsCenter," said Rich Shayewitz, Wells' coach at Division II Sonoma State, where Wells played the previous two seasons. "And I just texted him. I said, seeing you on SportsCenter makes me smile. Just said, congratulations. He just keeps getting better and better.

"I think the magic of what Jaylen is is his mental and his temperament. Those big moments don't change for him. He's even-keeled. He's out there having fun, hitting shots."