No home team at Final Four
TULSA, Okla. — Texas had the lead, the ball, the game and seemingly a Sweet 16 berth within its grasp with 12.3 seconds left. Then, everything went horribly wrong for the Longhorns in the BOK Center.
UT guard Cory Joseph inexplicably didn't inbound the ball within five seconds, got called for a violation (even as he pleaded that he'd called a timeout) and Arizona got the ball back, trailing 69-67. Having struggled all game against Texas' defense, Wildcats superstar Derrick Williams then stole the game.
Williams drove baseline hit the basket and the resulting free-throw for a 70-69 Arizona lead. Texas' last chance went for naught as J'Covan Brown (23 points) missed a drive in traffic and Gary Johnson bounced around bodies inside on a rebound attempt at the buzzer as Longhorns coach Rick Barnes looked for a foul.
From a miracle comeback to a heartbreaking finish. That's March sadness at its most excruciating.
Brown, playing the game of his life on the biggest stage, had given Texas a 69-67 lead, capping a furious second-half rally. And the Longhorns and Thompson had already made two huge defensive stops with blocks. Texas had the ball back with the lead. The worst that could seemingly happen was UT would be heading to the free-throw line with a chance to ice the game.
Then, Texas never got the ball in. Or at least, not before the referee Richard Cartmell called the five-second violation.
After trailing for more than 30 minutes of the game, Texas tied it at 65 with 3:02 left. Brown clapped and pleaded with his Longhorn teammates, "Let's go! Let's go!"
Then, he hit two free throws with 2:25 left to give Texas its first lead since the game was only seven minutes old.
Arizona (29-7) moves on to play No. 1 seed Duke in the Sweet 16 in Anaheim on Thursday night. Texas (28-8) wonders what could have been.
Arizona forward Derrick Williams (17 points) — a national player of the year favorite — never looked comfortable against Barnes' defensive schemes. Williams couldn't hit from the field (4-for-14) or the free-throw line (9-for-15) until the last second.
But Williams still won the matchup of NBA prospects. Texas freshman forward Tristan Thompson, who'd been so dominant for Texas in its first NCAA Tournament game, never even got involved in the game. Thompson finished with four points, six rebounds and four teases of impact blocks.
Trailing 36-25 at halftime, seeing the season slipping out the door, Texas ripped off a 10-2 run to open the second half and pull within three. Arizona kept pushing the ball though and when Wildcats freshman guard Jordin Mayes hit his fourth three, UT trailed 43-35 again. Mayes had already set a new career high in points scored with more than 15 minutes left in the game.
The Wildcats were in control without having to rely on their superstar.
Texas kept crawling back. The Longhorns pulled within 53-51, 58-55, 63-60,
Williams came into game off arguably the signature play of the NCAA Tournament so far: The last-second block that turned back Memphis. He's a consensus top five NBA draft pick whenever he decides to leave Arizona.
But early on, he couldn't get going against Johnson. With Thompson waiting to bring the help defense, Arizona's lifeline missed his first six shots and Arizona coach Sean Miller gave him an early rest amid that streak. Later in the first half, when Williams broke free in the open court, his AAU buddy, Texas guard Jordan Hamilton, left little doubt that the friendship was on hold, sending Williams slamming to the floor on a hard foul.
A Thompson stop on another Arizona breakaway briefly energized the Longhorns. Thompson raced back to swat away a layup and Texas ripped off two straight fast-break baskets to pull within 19-16.
Arizona kept running though, kept pushing the ball back at Barnes' team and Texas had trouble reacting. When junior guard Brendon Lavender popped off the Wildcats' bench and hit two straight 3-pointers — one when Williams made a great pass out of Texas' double team and another in transition — the Longhorns suddenly found themselves trailing 28-18.
Barnes took two timeouts in the last four minutes of the half, desperately trying to keep his reeling team in it.
The Longhorns held Derrick Williams completely in check and Arizona was still threatening to run them off the floor. That's what happens when you have an 18-2 advantage in bench points in a half. Heck, Arizona's bench threatened to outscore Texas' starting lineup in the opening half, let alone the Longhorns' non-existent reserves.