Arizona Wildcats Basketball: Top 5 Plays of Sean Miller Era

Javier MoralesCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2013

Arizona Wildcats Basketball: Top 5 Plays of Sean Miller Era

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    Derrick Williams makes an off-balance shot while being fouled in the waning seconds of Arizona's victory over Texas in the 2011 NCAA tournament
    Derrick Williams makes an off-balance shot while being fouled in the waning seconds of Arizona's victory over Texas in the 2011 NCAA tournamentRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    The top plays in Sean Miller's five years with the Arizona Wildcats have fittingly included a fair share of defensive gems.

    Miller has produced videos on how to play dominating man-to-man defense. The Arizona Wildcats' coach came to Tucson in 2009 after developing Xavier into one of the better defensive teams in the nation. Before Miller's arrival in Tucson, the Musketeers ranked No. 8 nationally, allowing opponents to shoot just 38.6 percent from the field in 2008-09. 

    The Arizona Wildcats' ascension to a No. 1 ranking for the first time in 11 seasons has Tucsonans enamored with Miller much like they were with Lute Olson during Olson's golden years. The Wildcats are 11-0 because of an athletic, cohesive unit that is allowing opponents to score only 59.1 points a game (ranking No. 8 in the country).

    Miller's five years with the Arizona Wildcats have included the challenges of missing two NCAA tournaments but also plenty of accomplishments, including Elite Eight and Sweet 16 appearances.

    The Arizona Wildcats' highly rated recruiting classes in the last two years, matched with Miller's coaching ability, has the program atop the college basketball world.

    Rivals.com rated the Class of 2012, which includes frontcourt starters Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, as No. 3 in the nation. The same recruiting website ranked Arizona's Class of 2013, including McDonald's All-American forwards Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, as No. 4 in the nation.

    The high level of talent began immediately with Miller's first class of 2009. That class included Derrick Williams, who is involved in most of the top plays in the five-year Miller era despite the fact Williams finished his Arizona Wildcats career three seasons ago.

    Defense is the theme in the top plays of the Miller era with the Arizona Wildcats. The blocked shot specifically is part of a remarkable four of the top five plays listed in the following slideshow.

Honorable Mention: Refs Rule Colorado's Three-Point Shot Too Late

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    Last-second controversy is also a significant part of the Sean Miller era with the Arizona Wildcats.

    A couple of the plays that failed to make this Top 5 ranking include buzzer-beaters that favored the Wildcats amid scrutiny by national media.

    Chief among them is the video posted above: a three-pointer by Colorado's Sabatino Chen waved off last season because it was ruled by refs to be a fraction of a second too late. The ruling allowed the game to continue to overtime. The Arizona Wildcats eventually won 92-83 at McKale Center in Tucson, but the game lingered for weeks because of questions involving the ruling by referees.

    "Get rid of instant replay," Colorado coach Tad Boyle told ESPN.com. "In basketball, football, human error is part of our game. If human error is part of the game, let the officials call the game. Players, coaches and officials will make mistakes. It's part of the game."

    The Wildcats also benefited from a ref's ruling of a buzzer-beater by Nic Wise against visiting Lipscomb in Miller's first season with the Arizona Wildcats. Wise's release of the ball was similar to Chen's. But the shot was ruled in time, and Arizona held on to beat Lipscomb in overtime.

    Wise was also the last-second hero in two other victories in Miller's first season. His drives to the basket against North Carolina State and USC at McKale Center deserve consideration in this ranking.

    In the same game against the Trojans, Kyle Fogg produced a memorable sequence. He made three free throws as time expired in regulation after being fouled on a three-point play. The game went into overtime, and Wise won it with his strong layup in the end.

    Mark Lyons' aggressive move to the basket last season against Florida came short of missing the cut in this ranking. Lyons made the basket with enough time (seven seconds remaining) for the Gators to get a winning shot off, but Arizona's defense did not allow them to get a clean look.

    Another play (or better yet, call) that was considered: the "He Touched the Ball" play in which Lyons was whistled for a double-dribble despite replays showing UCLA's Jordan Adams knocking the ball loose from Lyons in last year's Pac-12 tournament.

    Miller, who was whistled for a technical foul shortly thereafter, emphatically told the media, "He touched the ball...He touched the ball...He touched the ball" afterward.

    The game, won by UCLA, lingered in the national media for months because news broke of former Pac-12 Director of Officiating Ed Rush allegedly placing a bounty on Miller. The Arizona coach was fined $25,000 for a reported postgame tirade in the vicinity of a Pac-12 staffer.

     

5. Lamont "MoMo" Jones' Buzzer-Beater at Stanford

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    Freshman guard Lamont "MoMo" Jones' last-second game-winning jump shot at Stanford on Feb. 27, 2010, came about because of a standout defensive play by Derrick Williams, who had some of the more timely blocked shots in Arizona Wildcats history.

    Williams set up Jones’ shot at Stanford by blocking an attempted layup by Stanford's Jack Trotter with six seconds left. 

    “Derrick got the big-time block and came through big as he has the whole season,” Jones was quoted as saying by TucsonCitizen.com. “Brendon (Lavender) got the rebound, pitched it out to me, believed in me enough to make the play, and it was off to the races.”

    Jones, who transferred to Iona after the following season, dribbled the ball up court, weaved past Stanford defenders and released an off-balance jumper to the right of the top of the key. The ball banked in as time expired, giving Arizona a 71-69 victory.

    The Wildcats, who did not lead in the second half until Jones' shot, improved to 14-14 overall in Sean Miller's first season. The victory proved vital for Arizona to avoid its first losing season since 1982-83. The Wildcats won two of their last three games to finish 16-15.

4. Derrick Williams' Game-Saving Blocked Shot Against Memphis

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    Another significant defensive play by Derrick Williams allowed the Arizona Wildcats to survive against Memphis in the first-round game of the 2011 NCAA tournament. 

    Williams made a late three-pointer to finish with 22 points and 10 rebounds for Arizona, then blocked a potential tying shot in the final second to seal a 77-75 victory over the Tigers. 

    "It's as if he's playing in his backyard," Sean Miller was quoted as saying by ESPN.com. "He just has a way of making big plays and finishing the other team off. He did it here again tonight."

    Williams' heroics came into play after Memphis' Joe Jackson purposely missed a second free-throw attempt with 5 seconds remaining to allow the Tigers a chance at a game-tying field-goal attempt. The plan took shape as Wesley Witherspoon pulled down the rebound for Memphis.

    Williams, however, was in position to swat the shot away, avoiding body contact to preserve the win for the Wildcats. 

     "At one point, (Witherspoon) was wide open," Williams told ESPN.com. "I knew he wasn't going to shot fake it because there wasn't enough time on the clock, so I just went up trying to make a hard play on the ball like coach always tells us to do. 

    "Good thing it wasn't a foul."

3. Nick Johnson's Game-Saving Blocked Shot Against San Diego State

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    In another marquee, meaningful match up for Sean Miller's development of the Arizona Wildcats' program, Nick Johnson kept the ball rolling by swatting away San Diego State's last attempt last Christmas.

    Johnson blocked Chase Tapley's layup with three seconds left to preserve Arizona's 68-67 victory. The victory improved Arizona to 12-0, equaling the Wildcats' best start in 81 years. Arizona, ranked No. 3 at the time, was 12-0 in 1987-88 and 16-0 in 1931-32.

    The win moved Arizona to 12-0, equaling its best start in 26 years. The Wildcats were 12-0 in 1987-88. Arizona improved to 14-0 but lost to fall two-short of reaching the 16-0 mark in 1931-32.

    After an Arizona timeout with 27 seconds left, Mark Lyons took the inbound pass and drove to the basket. He drew a foul and hit the first free throw before San Diego State called a timeout.

    Lyons then made the second free throw, and the Aztecs' final play went to Tapley, who drove to the hoop from the left side and was blocked by a leaping Johnson.

     

     

2. Derrick Williams' Game-Saving Blocked Shot Against Washington

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    One of the most memorable blocked shots in the Arizona Wildcats' hoop history occurred against Washington in 2011 by, you guessed it, Derrick Williams.

    His last-second block of Darnell Gant’s short jumper from the right side preserved No. 12 Arizona’s 87-86 victory on Feb. 19, 2011, over Washington at McKale Center. The "White Out" crowd of 14,619 saw Williams wipe out Washington's last hope in an important victory for Sean Miller and his program.

    "I knew he was going up, so I just tried to block it, and I did,” Williams was quoted as saying by TucsonCitizen.com. “Good thing it wasn’t goaltending. I believe if we were at Washington, they would have called it goaltending. Good thing we were at home.”

    Williams had 26 points and 11 rebounds in the nationally televised game.

    The Wildcats protected their conference lead and top-10 national ranking with the victory, which at that time, was the biggest win of Miller's tenure with Arizona.

1. Derrick Williams' Three-Point Play vs. Texas

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    The Arizona Wildcats' most significant victory under Sean Miller did not happen until they took care of Duke in the 2011 Sweet 16, but the biggest play under the five-year coach in the previous game got them there.

    Derrick Williams, a sophomore who was selected the Pac-10 player of the year, made his second heroic play in as many NCAA tournament games on March 20, 2011. He completed a three-point play with 9.6 seconds remaining to give the Wildcats a 70-69 win over Texas in Tulsa, Okla.

    Williams also had the saving block against Memphis before Arizona faced Texas. 

    "I wasn't surprised by the block against Memphis," Williams was quoted as saying by ESPN.com. "I am a little surprised by the shot I made today. I haven't seen the replay yet, but I wasn't looking at the basket. I was looking down so I wouldn't have a hard fall.

     "I was surprised it went in, but at the same time I'm glad it went in."

    Williams' off-balance prayer and subsequent free throw after a foul called on Texas' Jordan Hamilton enabled the Wildcats to advance against Duke.

    The No. 4 Longhorns trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half. Texas came back behind guard J'Covan Brown's 21 second-half points.

    With 14.5 seconds left, Texas' Cory Joseph was whistled for a five-second call on an inbound play, setting up Williams' game-winning play. After setting a pick for forward Solomon Hill, Williams slipped past Joseph toward the lane, received a pass from Hill and made the acrobatic shot while being fouled by Hamilton.

    Williams made the free throw to put Arizona ahead 70-69. Brown drove down the court but did not get a clean look against three Arizona defenders, including Williams. His wild attempt missed, and Arizona advanced in the tourney. 

    With Williams' name prominent among the most significant plays in Sean Miller's five years, it's obvious he is to the young Arizona coach what Sean Elliott was to Lute Olson in terms of building a winning program.

     

    Check out Javier Morales' blogs at TucsonCitizen.com