You knew it wouldn't be easy.
The way the Arizona Wildcats' season has gone, getting a third straight win was almost destined to require some more last-minute tension, an inability to stop the opposition's best scorer at key times, and maybe some more Nic Wise heroics in the final seconds.
All that happened Thursday when the UA beat Stanford 76-68 before a sold-out crowd of 14,563 at McKale Center for its first three-game win streak of the season.
But peel back the exterior, and this one actually looked a bit different.
The Wildcats won with defense and rebounding, holding all Stanford players not named Landry Fields and Jeremy Green to just 12 points. The UA out-rebounded Stanford 38-34, had a season-high 19 offensive boards and forced 18 turnovers.
Doing all that allowed them to get away with shooting just 32.8 percent from the field, their second-worst shooting percentage of the season.
"Tonight's win is very satisfying for all of us, our coaching staff and players, because it was a night when things didn't go well for us on offense," UA coach Sean Miller said. "Although they have two terrific players who had big nights, I thought our defense forced some turnovers and we really stayed with it, grinded it out. That's a sign of our team growing, that we can win and not play the way we're capable of on offense."
The win improved Arizona to 11-9 overall and 5-3 in the Pac-10, giving the Wildcats a shot at first place on Sunday against California in the final game of the conference's first half. Stanford dropped to 10-10 and 4-4.
The Wildcats were led by Williams, who had 23 points and eight rebounds, while Kyle Fogg added 15 points and five rebounds.
Fields led all scorers with 31 points and also had 11 rebounds, while Green had 25 points, hitting 5 of 11 three-pointers.
While Fields torched the Wildcats consistently throughout the game, Green made it close at the end, scoring eight points in the final 2:03.
The UA led 68-56 with 2:31 to go, but Fields and Green combined for eight points to pull Stanford within 69-64 with 1:02 to go, then Green stuck a three-pointer with 22 seconds left to pull Stanford within 71-67.
It wasn't until Wise was sent to the line with 20 seconds left that the Wildcats could breathe.
Instead of popping in a three-pointer to win a game, this time, Wise went to the line, made the first, then missed the second - and immediately dived inside to rebound his own miss. Then he was fouled and hit two more free throws to give the UA a 74-67 lead with just 18 seconds left.
"Nobody even thought about boxing me out," Wise said. "I felt (the free throw) come off my hand short, so as soon as it came off the rim, I jumped at it."
If having a 5-foot-10-inch guy hustle off the line to grab his own rebound in a pile of forwards seems against the odds, Miller will take it.
"I was" surprised, Miller said. "But I also said to myself: 'If we get three more of those, we'll be even.' Because we've been on the other side of that coin a couple times, where we gave that second shot up and it really hurt us."
It wasn't the first time Thursday that the Wildcats had given their coach a positive surprise. Miller also cited two charges his players took for making a big difference, one of which resulted in Green's fourth foul with 10:30 to go.
With Stanford trying to close an eight-point gap, Green raced downcourt for a layup when Williams hastily set himself up under the basket and fell backward when he collided with Green.
The Cardinal cut the UA's lead to 55-50 after the play, thanks to a free throw and dunk from Fields, but Miller is well aware of how much worse it could have been. Not only would Stanford have another bucket, but Green might have turned hot even earlier.
"If we don't take those charges, the game could be different down the stretch," Miller said.
The Wildcats also managed to answer back eventually every time Fields hurt them. After Fields cut it to 55-50, he later had two free throws and a three-pointer to cut the UA's lead to 61-55 with six minutes left.
But from there, the Wildcats built the 68-56 lead with 2:31 to go, building just enough of a cushion to hold on at the end.
"We definitely keep our composure," Fogg said. "When guys hit shots, we don't get in a rush when the game gets close. We just stay calm and run our offense."
Well, except for the final two minutes.
But Miller wasn't complaining too much. He saw a bigger picture.
"We don't finish games well," Miller said. "That's well-documented. We have to keep working on that. But I'm glad we can learn from that experience with a win."
On StarNet: Follow the Wildcats through the Pac-10 season on reporter Bruce Pascoe's blog go.azstarnet.com/pascoe
• What: Cal at Arizona
• When: 1:30 p.m. Sunday
• TV: FSAZ
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)
Derrick Williams has dom-inated the low block lately:
His scoring and rebounding averages the last four games. He had 23 points and eight rebounds on Thursday.