UCLA 96, Arizona 89
With 5.1 seconds left in this afternoon's Pacific-10 Conference tournament quarterfinal, Steve Lavin made a last stand as UCLA's basketball coach. But it was the ending nobody could have expected on the day Lavin's seven-year tenure was set to expire.
As his players celebrated wildly on the Bruins' bench, Lavin rose from his crouch at the scorer's table and worked his way down the sideline, hugging and high-fiving everybody in sight, basking in the jubilation of one of college basketball's biggest upsets this season.
On the strength of Ray Young's fadeaway three-pointer at the end of regulation, Lavin's 10-win team forced overtime and then stunned No. 1 Arizona, 96-89, at Staples Center, avenging a pair of 30-point losses during the regular season and sparing Lavin's job at least for another day.
To the chants of "One more year" from the crowd, Lavin moved the celebration onto the court once the game was over. The coach even got a hug from first-year UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, whose refusal to back Lavin has fueled speculation of the coach's dismissal since December.
"We're playing our best basketball once again at the end of the year," Lavin said. "All year, I kept saying, 'We've got to keep working hard on a daily basis. And before you know it we're going to have a chance to do something special.'
"Now we are in position to do something special. That in itself is kind of a gift in a season like this."
Arizona (25-3) entered the tournament on a 10-game winning streak and took a 60-45 lead five minutes into the second half. Even UCLA guard Jason Kapono (game-high 26 points) said he could feel the fans' sense that another blowout was on the way. Arizona handed the Bruins their worst loss ever at Pauley Pavilion, 87-52, in January.
But UCLA fought its way back into the game, then got the shot of the year from Young on its final possession.
The senior guard took a pass on the right wing and launched a three-pointer over 6-foot-10 Arizona center Channing Frye that sailed in to tie the score at 82.
"At the end of the game, Coach Lavin was kind of drawing up some plays," Young said. "In the back of my mind, I was like, 'Yeah, right. If I get the ball, this thing is going up. No question.' "
Jason Gardner drove the length of the floor, but missed a layup at the buzzer. Once in overtime, UCLA connected on 10 of 12 free throws and outlasted the Wildcats, who now must wait until Sunday to learn if the loss will cost them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
For UCLA, meantime, the victory marked the fourth consecutive season in which Lavin and the Bruins have upset the nation's top-ranked team.
But today's win was nothing but vindication for Lavin, who spent the year answering calls for his resignation and once openly discussed his future successors.
Before the tournament, Lavin even joked that he would take Guerrero out for margaritas if he was retained as coach. This has been the worst season for the Bruins in more than 60 years, though the team now has won three games in a row.
"Coach Lavin's been very honest about his position this year," said Young, who finished with 17 points. "But at the same time that didn't change how we practiced and how we wanted to play."
After the game, Lavin preached to his players the importance of staying focused. UCLA (10-18) will next play Oregon on Friday at 9:15 p.m.
"It feels good to win this game," Kapono said. "But our final goal is to get in the tournament. Coach said he's proud of us, but we're still not there yet. If we lose [Friday] or Saturday, it's going to take a lot off this win."
Arizona skipped Wednesday's practice here after Coach Lute Olson complained to reporters Tuesday that the conference tournament sends a contradictory message because it forces players to miss two or three days of classes.
The Wildcats received 23 points each from Rick Anderson and Frye, but shot just 1 of 7 in overtime. They also ran into a Bruins team that picked up a new mind-set as the game wore on -- one that would suit its coach well, too.
"We don't have anything to lose," forward T.J. Cummings said. "And we finally started playing like it."