Success may be eluding the Arizona Wildcats this season, but they still have a knack for entertainment.
Instead of blowing out an opponent from a low-major conference on their home court, Arizona went to overtime with Lipscomb on Monday, managing to eke out an 83-82 victory only after Nic Wise hit a game-winning three-pointer as time expired.
The Wildcats (5-5) went into overtime for the third time this season. They beat Colorado in the Maui Invitational and lost in double-overtime to UNLV at home.
"Tonight was a reflection of just trying to hang in there under some very difficult circumstances," UA coach Sean Miller said. "We're not a very good team, and we're working hard every day to be better."
One of the tough circumstances was that the Wildcats lost their leading rebounder, Jamelle Horne, for an undetermined period because of a mid-foot sprain. Miller said he was unsure if Horne would be able to play Wednesday against North Carolina State, and then said Horne mentioned he might be out until February.
February? With a sprain?
"That's what Jamelle said, so we're going to see if that's the case and kind of go day-by-day," Miller said.
The only thing Miller knew for sure about Horne was that he has not practiced since originally injuring the foot against San Diego State on Dec. 12, even though he came back to play a total of 32 minutes in that game.
With Horne out, Miller started Kyryl Natyazhko at center and moved Derrick Williams to power forward, where he had played only a few minutes.
"It affected us," Miller said. "We couldn't function in the offense for a while."
The Wildcats actually did not function very well for the first 35 minutes Monday, before they sent it into overtime thanks to Wise's 6-for-6 free-throw shooting in the final 3:47. Arizona also received a critical six points late in the second half from Alex Jacobson, who hit two 12-foot jumpers and tipped a basket in to record a career high.
The Wildcats then won in overtime after MoMo Jones sank three three-pointers and Wise popped in his dramatic three on an assist from Kyle Fogg.
"I looked at the clock and saw there was three seconds and said, 'That's way too much,'" said Fogg, who had a career-high 18 points.
Wise was only too happy to receive it and launch it just before time expired. Officials spent three minutes afterward making sure Wise launched it before time expired and to determine whether he made a three- or two-pointer, but Wise remained confident once the shot fell in that the replays would hold up.
"I just threw it up, and it went in," Wise said. "I don't know how it went in. It looked good when left my hands but I couldn't really see."
Although Wise's three-pointer was the obvious highlight, his 12-of-12 free-throw shooting was just as significant. Wise has now made 48 of 50 free throws this season, with many of them under pressure as the primary ballhandler for a team that often takes games down to the wire.
"Nic Wise is a real weapon late in the game because of his free throws," Miller said. "Every one of his free throws this season seems to be crucial, and he keeps going and making them."
There was also a surprise that made the difference, too: Jones, who had hit only 4 of 21 (19.1 percent) of his three-point attempts, made three in overtime.
"MoMo was shooting about, what, 14 percent coming into the game?" Miller said. "The fact that he had the confidence and was able to step up and make back-to-back-to-back threes … we probably wouldn't have had a chance (to win) if he didn't do that."
Jones, the confident freshman from New York, said he wasn't surprised.
"I didn't shoot the ball as well in regulation, and I pretty much knew they would leave me open, and they did," Jones said. "And I made them. Big-time players come through. This is a big-time program, and that's what they recruited us to do."
The win spared UA the embarrassment of losing to a team from a low-major conference during the regular-season for the first time since 1983-84.
Now the Cats will host North Carolina State on Wednesday and maybe, just maybe, with a different momentum.
At least Wise, who witnessed the way UA rallied after Houston's Aubrey Coleman stepped on Chase Budinger's face last season, wondered if it might.
"I think this could be a game like Houston where something happens, and it changes your whole season around," Wise said. "Hopefully."
On StarNet: Follow the Arizona Wildcat on Bruce Pascoe's blog at go.azstarnet.com/pascoe