By Th‚oden K. Janes
Arizona Daily Wildcat
It was as if the official blew his whistle and then flipped a coin in his head before making the call.
Washington may have ended up winning regardless, but one call most likely was the difference between the Arizona women's basketball team's sixth Pacific 10 Conference victory and its 18th Pac-10 loss.
In the end, the Huskies outlasted the UA 71-68 last night in front of a McKale Center crowd of 1,147.
With 33 seconds remaining and Washington leading 68-64, junior guard Brenda Pantoja dumped a pass down low to Adia Barnes, who ran into a Husky defender and then heard the whistle. The pro-Arizona fans, who of course made up the majority of the crowd, was probably expecting a blocking call on the defense.
If that was the case, they were unpleasantly surprised.
"That was a key call," said UA head coach Joan Bonvicini. "I don't think she (the Washington player) gave (Adia) room to come down, because when she received the ball she was in the air."
After that play, Washington pretty much breezed to the victory.
Arizona (10-18 overall, 5-11 in the Pac-10) jumped out on top of the Huskies early on the wind of a pull-up three-pointer by Pantoja and a 15-footer by Barnes, and after Michelle Giordano scored with 15:00 left, the UA had a 13-2 lead.
"I thought from the beginning, obviously, we started really well," Bonvicini said, "and again I thought our game plan was very good, and we put Washington in a position to play catch-up early."
Soon afterward, that dwindled and then completely vanished as the Huskies charged on a 17-4 run and finished the half up 33-32.
After the break, Washington picked up right where it left off, and 2:24 into the second half, UW had a 44-34 lead, which would be its largest of the game. But the Wildcats slowly battled back and tied the score at 49 with 10:18 remaining when DeAngela Minter dumped the ball inside for Jacque Clark, who put in an easy two.
Just under a minute later, Pantoja found Clark under the basket again to put Arizona up by two.
But then UW ran off 11 points to the Wildcats' four over the next 2:40, and found itself leading by a 60-55 score with 6:37 remaining.
The two teams then seesawed back and forth to a critical point in the game, when Pantoja missed two makeable lay-ups between 2:59 and 2:52 that would have tied the score at 62.
More critical, however, was the player control foul called on Barnes just over two minutes later.
From that point on, the game was basically out of the Wildcats' reach.
"I thought we played well and we played really hard, and it was a very, very physical game," Bonvicini said. "It just came down to different situations, particularly at the end."
Pacing Arizona was Barnes, who scored 21 points and had nine rebounds before fouling out with 17 seconds left, and Pantoja, who had a unique triple-double Ä 14 points, 13 assists and 10 turnovers. Junior transfer Atina Harris added eight points and eight boards.
For Washington (21-7, 11-4) , center Rhonda Smith led all scorers with 22 points and 16 rebounds, while Shannon Kelley had 15 points and Melissa Wuschnig pitched in eight points and 10 rebounds.
For many UA players, losing is getting old.
"I'm tired of coming so close," Pantoja said. "It's just like Coach B. says, our time will come, it's just not this year, and hopefully next year we'll know what to expect and we'll know what the conference is all about."
Said Barnes: "We have to learn how to be able to hold that lead ... and start crushing teams like people crush us."
The Wildcats today to rest before they must take on Washington State in the second-to-last game of their season tomorrow at 7 at McKale.
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