TUCSON, Ariz. – It had to come down to the game’s final moment – that’s what these two teams do when they square off.
And it was sweet coincidence that the game ended with a blocked shot. Only this time, it was the Washington Huskies who did the blocking and left the McKale Center with a victory over Arizona.
Improving freshman Tony Wroten came from nowhere to block Josiah Turner’s tying layup attempt from behind with less than two seconds left to secure Washington’s 69-67 win over the Wildcats on Saturday.
With the win, the Huskies (14-7 overall, 7-2 Pacific-12 Conference) swept an Arizona trip for the first time since 2006 and now sit alone atop the conference standings.
“The last time we were here, we had the same feeling they have right now,” coach Lorenzo Romar said.
The last time the Huskies were in Tucson, Derrick Williams blocked Darnell Gant’s shot with seconds remaining to secure an 87-86 win for the Wildcats.
“That’s just crazy,” Romar said.
Crazy, coincidental, karmic, poetic – any of those words will work. Terrence Ross added one more.
“It’s really ironic because that’s how we lost last year,” said Ross, who finished with 16 points, including two big shots late in the game. “It was heartbreaking the way we lost last year. It makes it that much better this year.”
Say what you want about Wroten – and many people have – but he isn’t afraid of “the moment.”
When he saw that Turner had gotten around Ross and was going to the basket, he didn’t hesitate.
“At that time, I wasn’t thinking about anything,” said Wroten, who had a team-high 17 points and five rebounds. “There was five seconds left and I was trying to stop him from scoring and get the block. He didn’t see me coming.
“I’ve never won a game with a block. Most of my game-winners were on offense. This is definitely a classic. I will remember it forever.”
Were it not for Wroten’s late heroics, it might have been a game the Huskies would have wanted to forget.
The Huskies went up 62-52 on Ross’ reverse layup with 4:04 left and seemed to be in control. But nothing is ever that simple for UW on the road.
The Wildcats (14-8, 5-3) clawed their way back, cutting the lead to four points twice. They finally got it to 67-64 with 23 seconds left on Jesse Perry’s bucket inside.
Arizona fouled C.J. Wilcox on the ensuing inbounds play, which is usually a good thing for the Huskies. Wilcox leads the team at the free-throw line, coming in shooting 91 percent. But he missed the front end of the one-and-one, and the Wildcats’ Solomon Hill snagged the rebound.
Hill charged downcourt, and after a few passes he got the ball back at the top of the key and buried a wide-open 3-pointer to tie the game at 67 with 6.9 seconds left.
“I was thinking, ‘This always happens to us and here we go again,’ ” Wilcox said.
Wilcox took the inbounds pass and was trying to drive upcourt to get a chance for a last-second shot. He collided with Turner, and the referees called a blocking foul.
Romar thought it was the correct call. But it’s always a crapshoot on the road, late in a game with a sold-out arena of fans screaming like crazy.
“It’s about time one of those things happened for us,” he said. “Usually we are on the other end of that. Today we were the recipient of good fortune on that one.”
Wilcox hustled to the free-throw line as of the 14,604 in attendance voiced their displeasure.
“I was ready,” said Wilcox, who finished with 15 points. “I wasn’t going to miss again. I thought I blew the game when I missed the first one.”
Wilcox made both free throws for what would be the winning points.
Arizona didn’t hesitate afterward. Turner, a speedy freshman, took the inbound pass and raced downcourt. Wroten was guarding him and got screened and switched. But instead of giving up on the play, he followed Turner to the basket.
“He’s starting to get a better understanding of what we want from our team defense,” Romar said. “Earlier in the season, he might not have been there to make that play.”
Earlier in the season, the Huskies might not have been in any sort of position to need that play.
“This would have been a 15 to 20 point loss earlier in the year,” Romar said. “But the team has grown up. A lot of people didn’t want to give us credit for our other two road victories at Utah and Arizona State. But I said there is something different about our team on the road.”
The Huskies feel different. They believe they made a statement by coming into the hostile environment with a national television audience and ESPN’s Gameday crew on hand and exiting with a win.
“Here we come,” Wroten said. “We’re a good basketball team. When we play like we’re capable of, we are a very dangerous team.”