Blair grabs 17 rebounds with family in stands

The Associated Press

HOUSTON Arizona jumped 15 spots in The Associated Press Top 25 poll last week, but center Joseph Blair said the Wildcats took a step back Saturday night.

Blair had 18 points and 17 rebounds to lead the No. 4 Wildcats to a hard-fought 73-69 victory over Houston.

Houston (2-2) suited up only seven scholarship players because of academic problems. The Cougars led midway through the second half before Arizona (5-0) went back ahead.

''I'm not sure what we expected,'' said Blair, playing for the first time for his family and friends in his hometown. ''We could have done a lot of things better, that's for sure. If anything, I think we took a step back. But a win's a win, and we've got to learn from it.''

Houston was so undermanned it suited up 6-foot-6, 260-pound Otis Grant, a defensive tackle who played in the Cougars' 18-17 football victory over Rice, which ended about an hour before tipoff.

Houston coach Alvin Brooks used Grant only briefly in the second half when starting center Anthony Knox had cramps.

''I told him to go play in the middle, and if anyone goes to the basket, hammer him,'' Brooks said.

It was the first time Grant had suited up for the basketball team this season.

Houston led midway through the second half before Arizona regained the lead.

Kenya Capers led Houston with 25 points while Damon Jones added 15 and Willie Byrd 14. Miles Simon had 11 points for the Wildcats and Ben Davis had 10.

''They really broke us down off the dribble,'' Arizona coach Lute Olson said. ''Capers was difficult for us to deal with. I thought they played with a lot of spirit they're going to be a nice club, especially when they get some depth where they can stay a little fresher.''

Arizona led 37-32 at halftime, but Houston went on a 14-6 run to start the second half. Arizona recovered with a 12-0 run, including two baskets each by Blair and Joe McLean, and went ahead 55-46 midway through the period.

''When Houston made a run at us, it seemed like we really got the defense cranked up for (the next few) possessions and created offense with our defense,'' Olson said.

Houston then scored eight straight points, four each from Byrd and Kirk Ford, and closed to 55-54 with 8:15 remaining. That was the closest the Cougars got. Arizona pulled away by scoring six straight, including a 3-pointer by McLean.

With one minute to go, a tip-in by Houston's Anthony Knox made it 69-66, but the Cougars went cold after that.

Arizona had 12 first-half turnovers and Houston missed 10 of its first 14 shots. Despite sloppy play, the Wildcats took a 21-10 lead on A.J. Bramlett's tip-in with 9:07 left in the half.

But the Cougars bounced back with 13 straight points, including eight by Capers, for a 23-21 lead with 6:06 remaining. Capers scored the go-ahead basket off a missed pass by Arizona.

Arizona got a pair of 3-pointers by Reggie Geary and Simon to retake the lead and ended the first half ahead 37-32.

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