Alex Oriakhi battles Arizona's Derrick Williams (AP)
March 27, 2011
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - Derrick Williams and his Arizona teammates dunked their way to another big second-half run. This time, it wasn't enough.
In a matchup of streaky shooting teams, the Wildcats couldn't stay hot long enough to beat Connecticut, losing 65-63 in the West Regional final on Saturday.
It was a crushing end to fifth-seeded Arizona's run that came just a year after the Wildcats' streak of 25 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances ended.
Williams scored 20 points, going 9 of 12 from the free throw line, and Jesse Perry added 14 for the Wildcats (30-8), the Pac-10 regular-season champions. They were both selected to the all-regional team.
Two days after upsetting defending national champion Duke with a stunning 19-2 second-half rampage, the Wildcats saw Williams get into early foul trouble.
He was a big part of Arizona's 14-2 spurt midway through the second half that put the Wildcats ahead 55-52. But the Pac-10 player of the year struggled through the final 6 minutes.
"Everybody wants to take some plays that they did wrong back, and especially me," he said. "I had a couple of plays that I want to take back, too."
Williams, hailed as "The Whole Enchilada from La Mirada" on fans' signs, missed shots and committed a critical turnover. He was near the top of the key when he threw a pass that was picked off by the outstretched arm of freshman Jeremy Lamb, who dashed downcourt for the fast-break dunk that capped the Huskies' 10-0 spurt and extended their lead to 62-55.
Williams' teammates bailed him out, though, just as they did against Duke. Kyle Fogg and Jamelle Horne hit consecutive 3-pointers that got the Wildcats within two with a minute left.
But then Williams missed a 3-pointer with 7 seconds left and Horne couldn't connect on a 3 just before the buzzer. Williams finished 1 of 6 from long range and Arizona shot a season-low 19 percent from beyond the arc.
"It was kind of weird," UConn guard Shabazz Napier said. "I would think they would try to throw it down into the post for D-Will so he could get fouled, but they were actually going for the kill. I was like, 'Oh man, I hope they don't do it to us."
The Wildcats didn't need to go for a 3 on their final possession. Second-year coach Sean Miller said the play they ran was designed to free up Fogg, but Williams popped out to the perimeter.
"He's won about 15 games and to have him shoot that shot, which I don't know if it was a great one, but with the ball in his hands from 3 in that situation is something we all can live with," Miller said.
Fogg grabbed Williams' miss and fed Horne, who missed a 3 from the right side. Lamont Jones snagged the offensive board - one of a season high-tying 19 by Arizona in the game - but time expired on the Wildcats' desperate bid to reach their first Final Four since 2001.
Saddled with three fouls, Williams was relegated to the bench with 5 minutes left in the first half, the same time the third-seeded Huskies were on a 22-7 run that gave them a 32-25 lead at the break.
"Very difficult," Jones said about playing without Williams. "He's a big part of our offense. He opens up a lot of looks for other people, and when he was out of the game we didn't do so good. We missed a couple of shots that we would have normally knocked down."
Williams returned to start the second half, when the Wildcats opened with a 12-4 run to take a one-point lead. Perry ran off six straight points before Williams missed a pair of free throws and then scored inside.
Then it was UConn's turn. The Huskies outscored the Wildcats 14-4 to go back in front, 50-41.
"You can't underestimate their poise," Miller said. "It's not just Kemba Walker; it's the overall team."
With Miller gesturing wildly on the sideline, his red tie askew, the Wildcats used a 14-2 burst, including eight points by Williams, to take their final lead, 55-52.
Perry and Williams dunked twice in a row as the mostly pro-Arizona crowd of 17,856 inside Honda Center - including alum and Los Angeles Lakers player Luke Walton - burst into cheers.
"It felt like a home game," Williams said.
But then UConn answered as Arizona kept going to Williams only to see the sophomore playing 15 minutes from his hometown falter.
"It's a game of runs, and they had the last run," he said.
Whether Williams returns to Tucson for a third season is not yet known, though he echoed the fans' thoughts when he said, "Hopefully, we'll be back in this spot next year."