ROSEMONT, Ill., March 24 -- In the final minutes of Thursday night's semifinal of the Chicago Region at Allstate Arena, Oklahoma State's Joey Graham and Arizona's Salim Stoudamire traded big shot after big shot, trying to carry their teams one step closer to the Final Four. On the benches, Cowboys Coach Eddie Sutton and Wildcats Coach Lute Olson, who have combined to win more than 1,500 games, huddled with their teams during timeouts in the final seconds, each trying to design a play that could win the game.
In the end, Stoudamire and Olson came up with the play that mattered most, as the Wildcats' all-American guard hit a jumper with 2.8 seconds left to give Arizona a thrilling 79-78 victory in front of a crowd of 16,957. The Wildcats (30-6) advance to play No. 1 seed Illinois in Saturday night's regional final. The winner of that game advances to the Final Four in St. Louis.
The Wildcats' Salim Stoudamire (19 points) puts up the game-winning shot over Oklahoma State's Terrence Crawford, left, Daniel Bobik, with 2.8 seconds left.
(Jeff Roberson -- AP)
After Graham put Oklahoma State (26-7) ahead, 78-77, with a layup with 18.8 seconds to go, Olson called time out with 13.1 seconds left. During the timeout, Olson designed a play for center Channing Frye to set a screen for Stoudamire near the top of the key, which the coach hoped would allow college basketball's best three-pointer shooter to break free for a jumper.
So with 10 seconds left, Arizona's Ivan Radenovic handed the ball to Stoudamire. Stoudamire dribbled near the top of the key until there were six seconds left, but ignored Frye as he came out toward the top of the key to set the screen. Instead, Stoudamire drove down the left side of the lane. He penetrated toward Cowboys guard Daniel Bobik, but quickly stopped and backed away, before firing up the game-winner from near the baseline over two defenders.
"I wanted to run the clock down as low as possible," Stoudamire said. "I really didn't want Channing coming out to set the screen because I knew they were going to double-team me. That's why I crossed it over and went to the baseline."
Bobik, who helped the Cowboys hold Stoudamire to eight points in the first half and 19 in the game, didn't think the shot was good.
"I just didn't want to let him drive to the basket and didn't want to foul him," Bobik said. "He made a tough shot. I thought it was going to be short because he shot it on the way down."
The Cowboys called time out, and Sutton drew up a play to get the Cowboys one more shot. Guard John Lucas III caught a pass near midcourt and was fouled by Chris Rodgers. The foul was only Arizona's sixth of the half, so Oklahoma State had to inbound the ball from midcourt with 1.3 seconds to play. Lucas caught the basketball in the left corner and fired up a three-point attempt, but his shot bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
"It was a heck of a basketball game," Olson said. "If no one cared who won, I don't think it could get any better than that."
The game was only the third meeting between Sutton and Olson, who are sixth and 11th in career victories, respectively and have combined to coach in more than 2,000 games. It was the first meeting between their teams in the NCAA tournament, as each was coaching in the event for the 26th time. There was speculation that Sutton, in his 35th season, could have coached his last game. He already has named his middle son and assistant, Sean, as the head coach designate.
Graham did all he could do to get Sutton back to the Final Four, where his coach lost in the national semifinals three previous times. Graham, who scored 26 points on 9-for-19 shooting, made three-pointers on consecutive possessions with less than eight minutes remaining to put the Cowboys ahead, 64-62. His layup with 3 minutes 49 seconds left gave Oklahoma State a 74-70 lead.
But with 1:58 left, Stoudamire dribbled around the lunging Bobik and fired a long three-pointer, which pulled the Wildcats to within 76-75. Frye blocked Ivan McFarlin's shot on Oklahoma State's next possession, and then Frye scored on a baseline jumper with 1:01 remaining to give Arizona a 77-76 lead.
"I tried not to force the issue," Stoudamire said of his early struggles. "I knew crunch time would be my time."