On StarNet: Follow the Arizona Wildcats through the Pac-10 Conference season on reporter Bruce Pascoe's blog at go.azstarnet.com/pascoe
The stage was set for another night of home-court buzzer-beating heroics but, this time, Sean Miller wasn't sure the Arizona Wildcats deserved to be there.
So after Washington State's DeAngelo Casto twisted under the basket for a layup with 0.1 of a second left, giving the Cougars a 78-76 win over the Wildcats on Friday at McKale Center, the Arizona basketball coach had other things on his mind than the electric finish.
Nearly all of which involved on-ball defense, the kind that led to the Cougars' 50.9 percent field goal shooting.
"Our defense is terrible," Miller said. "We're the team that has a cornerback that can't run and the receiver keeps running by him. You can change the scheme … but we got beat off the dribble tonight."
The loss dropped Arizona to 7-8 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-10, after the Wildcats had won two of their previous three home games on buzzer-beaters. WSU improved to 12-3, 2-1.
To Miller, the individual defensive lapses meant the Wildcats were constantly helping inside and taking charges, leading to Washington State's 12 offensive rebounds, six of which were scooped up by Casto.
"Some of his dunks and easy shots happened because at a number of positions, we couldn't guard the ball," Miller said.
Casto also had 16 points, while WSU was led by guard Reggie Moore, who scored 20 on a night when UA managed to "hold" wing Klay Thompson to 19 points after he entered the game as the nation's third-leading scorer with an average of 24.3 points.
Another major problem, Miller said, was that getting beaten also led to fouls the Wildcats otherwise might not have needed to commit. This was especially critical for forward Derrick Williams, who played just 17 minutes because of foul trouble and was gone with 6:48 left in the game.
That was frustrating for Miller to watch on a night when Williams managed to score 13 points and collect six rebounds, blocking two shots and going to the free-throw line eight times - but was not available most of the game. Instead, guard Nic Wise led the Wildcats in scoring with 15 points.
"The difference in the game was Derrick Williams played only 17 minutes," Miller said. "He's really a big part of our success and to play without him for that long a period of time really hurt our team tonight. …
"Obviously, his athleticism speaks for itself, but I'll also tell you some of his fouls are a function of players not guarding the dribble. It presents the ultimate problems."
Williams dominated much of the time he was on the floor, scoring seven points in the first two minutes of the second half when UA turned a 35-35 halftime tie into a 42-37 lead. But he picked up a fourth foul with 10:36 to go and actually picked up No. 5 on an offensive call.
With 6:48 left to go and WSU up 62-58, Williams drove inside with authority against Casto, who took some contact and fell backward to the floor.
"I don't think I really hit him that hard, to fall over. He's a big boy," Williams said. "It was a close call."
The easygoing Williams said it was "a little hard" to watch the game from the bench the rest of the way, when UA trailed by seven points twice but pulled into a tie with nine seconds left when Solomon Hill tipped in a missed layup by Wise.
The Cougars held a 75-71 lead entering the final minute but turned the ball over with 41.7 seconds left when Moore threw the ball to Casto, who tipped the ball as it went out of bounds. UA's Kevin Parrom then made a three-pointer with 32 seconds left to pull the Wildcats within a point before Moore was fouled.
Moore made just the second of two free throws with 27.5 seconds left, and the Wildcats had a chance to win with a three-pointer or tie with a two-pointer. But Wise said he had no chance for a three-pointer because of how WSU switched defensively off UA's ball screen.
"It was just taking what you can get and not forcing a three," Wise said. "I was going to shoot it but they were playing pretty tight so I took the option of driving."
Wise's missed layup turned into Hill's tip-in that tied the game, but it wasn't enough when Casto finished up a quick play for the Cougars, turning through the UA defense to get off the final shot.
"I'm not even focused on losing on a last-second shot," Miller said. "We were fortunate to be there."
• What: Washington at Arizona
• When: 3:30 p.m. Sunday
• TV: Channel 58 and FSAZ
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM and 990-AM (Spanish)