There’s something about the Arizona Wildcats and playing West Coast Conference teams led by former Pac-12 coaches at the Wooden Legacy.
Four years ago it was Santa Clara, coached by former ASU coach Herb Sendek, who gave Arizona all it had in an overtime loss. On Thursday night it was Pepperdine and former Washington coach—and ex-UA assistant—Lorenzo Romar that pushed the Wildcats to the limit.
Nico Mannion’s running hook shot with 2.1 seconds left gave No. 14 Arizona a 93-91 win over Pepperdine in the opening round of the Wooden Legacy in Anaheim, Calif.
Mannion, who had 16 points and a career-high 11 assists, scored the game-winning after Pepperdine junior Colbey Ross hit a floater with seven seconds left. Those were the 24th lead change and 13th ties of a game in which both teams shot better than 50 percent and combined to make 24 of 47 three-pointers.
In other words, defense was optional. And rarely played.
Josh Green had a career-high 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists, making 4 of 5 threes including three in a row at one point. Zeke Nnaji had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Dylan Smith added 16 with four threes (also hitting three in a row late in the second half) as Arizona improved to 7-0 for the first time since 2014-15.
Arizona shot 60.7 percent for the game, including a blistering 72 percent in the second half, but allowed Pepperdine to shoot 50.8 percent overall and make 13 of 27 threes.
The Wildcats were 11 of 20 from three, only a slightly worse percentage then they were at the line where they missed 10 of 24 free throws. That could have cost them the game since Pepperdine (3-4) was 18 of 19 on foul shots.
Tied at 42 entering the second half, Arizona built a five-point lead when Nnaji dunked a missed Chase Jeter free throw to make it 51-46 with 16:37 left.
Pepperdine wouldn’t go away, though, getting within 56-55 with 14:08 left. Then Green hit three threes in a 64-second span, the last two coming at the outset of a 10-0 run to lead 69-57 with 10:33 to go.
The Waves went more than four minutes without a field goal but still managed to climb back thanks to their excellent free throw shooting before they warmed up from deep. A three by Kameron Edwards cut Arizona’s edge to 73-72, then Skylar Chavez’s three put Pepperdine up 77-76 with 6:19 left.
An Edwards layup gave Pepperdine an 81-79 lead with 5:05 to go, and the Waves had a shot to go up two scores but a missed layup led to a 10-second scramble all over the court which ended with Smith canning a three to put UA up 83-81 with 3:57 left.
Smith hit another three on Arizona’s next possession, after Pepperdine hit a triple on its end of the court, to make it 86-84 with 3:02 left, and after two Wave free throws the fifth-year senior drained a third straight three to give the Wildcats an 89-86 edge with 2:38 to go.
Chavez tied it for Pepperdine with a three with 1:39 left, then Nnaji dunked off a feed from Green with 19 seconds to go before Ross—who had 20 points but only four in the second half—tied it at 91.
Pepperdine came out on fire in the first half, making 11 of its first 16 shots including 4 of 7 from three. Ross was unstoppable, starting 5 for 5 from the field.
Arizona wasn’t nearly as hot from the field but made up for it by getting to the line and scoring off turnovers. That resulted in a back-and-forth first half with 13 lead changes and seven ties in the first 16 minutes, with neither team leading by more than three points.
A three-pointer by Jemarl Baker Jr. helped Arizona build a 40-35 lead but Pepperdine followed with a 7-0 run. A spinning layup by Green with 27 seconds left knotted things at 42 going into the break.
Arizona will face Penn in Friday’s semifinals at 9:30 p.m. MT. The Quakers (4-2) beat UCF 68-67 when UCF’s Darin Green Jr. hit a shot at the buzzer that was ruled a two because his foot was on the line.