Wildcats, Cougars claw to end

By Monty Phan

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Welcome to the Arizona men's basketball team presentation of ... "Tales," (echo, please), "of the Weird." In this episode:

¨ Senior guard Damon Stoudamire is not the game's high scorer. He's not even the Wildcats' high scorer. He finishes with "only" 16 points.

¨ Arizona has trouble with a team at home (excluding UCLA, of course).

¨ Arizona has trouble with a Washington school at home. The last time a team from the Great Northwest won at McKale Center? 1984.

¨ Arizona has trouble with Washington State at home, a team missing its starting point guard, Donminic Ellison.

¨ Joe McLean, who was shooting 28.8 percent from the floor and 15.8 percent from three-point range prior to the game, nails one from behind the arc with 54 seconds left, putting the Wildcats up by a safe five points. Definitely the biggest shot of the game, arguably his biggest shot of the season.

¨ And, amazingly, with three minutes left, there are still fans in the seats.

No. 12 Arizona (16-4 overall, 6-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference) survived a scare last night at McKale, as Washington State (10-6, 5-3) proved why it is near the top of the Pac-10, falling by a score of 84-76 in front of a sellout crowd of 14,257.

"I had to make a big shot sometime," McLean said. "I kind of had to put a double-take on it, to make sure it went in. I looked back, and they were taking the ball out of bounds. It felt good. I've been feeling it a lot of other times, but it felt good."

As usual, the Wildcats pounced on the opposition early, jumping out to an 18-10 lead with just over eight minutes gone on a Michael Dickerson three-pointer. It seemed Arizona was determined to make the Cougars win the game from the line, as Washington State leads the Pac-10 in team field goal percentage at 53.3 percent. The plan worked ─ for a little mid

while, at least. WSU hit only two of its first six free throws (11-18 for the game), its first field goal coming at the 15:23 mark on a Tavares Mack turnaround.

But the Cougars regrouped, tying the score a scant 2:22 later, as Washington State scored 10 of the next 12 points behind two Shamon Anthrum three-pointers. It was the Wildcats turn to regroup, and regroup they did. Starting with Ben Davis' six-footer, Arizona scored nine points in a row, earning a 10-point lead on two McLean free throws with 5:36 left in the half. The Cougars would get within eight before the halftime buzzer sounded, with Arizona leading 41-33.

"They hung with us in the second half," Stoudamire said. "We put a run on them, but they wouldn't go away. In the end we stepped it up, but we have to keep the intensity up for a full 40 minutes."

"They're a good shooting team," said senior Ray Owes, who finished with a team-high 19 points. "Once they got in the lane, it was like they were shooting layups."

In practically a carbon copy of the first half, Arizona decided the Cougars had been too close too long, as Owes' basket at the 15:19 mark gave the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game, 58-43. Then, almost imperceptively, Washington State climbed back into the game, coming within five points with over nine minutes left in the half. In a glorified game of see-saw, the Wildcats used a Corey Williams three-pointer to go up by 11 with six and a half left. Touché, WSU ─ Cougar forward Isaac Fontaine hit three of his game-high 23 points to bring his team within three points with just under three minutes left.

As the fans racked their brains trying to remember the last time the Wildcats lost two home games in one season, Washington forward Mark Hendrickson was thinking upset, as he hit a driving layup with a minute and a half left to close the Cougars within two, 76-74. Then, with under a minute left, Stoudamire found an open McLean from the right side for the proverbial nail in the coffin.

"Joe's been waiting on that shot all season," said Williams. "He stepped up and hit the big shot for us."

"The three by Joe was big," said UA head coach Lute Olson, in perhaps the biggest understatement of the season. "It was good to see him do that. He shot the ball well in practice this week, but he needed to get some more game confidence."

Getting more to the point, the obviously upset Cougar head coach Kevin Eastman said: "McLean's shot killed us."

After multiple sighs of relief, the Wildcats agreed that Washington State did more than get its point across tonight. In fact, many UA players expressed they will be aware of the upset potential when the teams tangle again in Pullman.

"They hit some big shots to get back in the game," Olson said. "It wasn't that either team played bad, both teams played well. It was a well-played basketball game."

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