Arizona's 62-54 victory over Washington State Friday at the Forum in the quarterfinals of the Pacific 10 Conference basketball tournament was far from the tour de force expected of the No. 1-ranked Wildcats.
Give credit for that to the overmatched Cougars, whose deliberate style of play is frustrating even to the best of its opponents.
It is also mentally taxing for the Cougars, though, and may have led to their demise, WSU Coach Kelvin Sampson suggested afterward.
Washington State was outscored, 11-4, in the last three minutes as Arizona recorded its 15th straight victory against Pac-10 competition, improving its overall record to 25-3 by winning for the 17th time in 18 games.
"We try to control the tempo so much, and it's not easy to play like that," Sampson said. "I think it's easier when you have great athletes and great scorers and can go baseline to baseline and get a lot of baskets in transition.
"It's tougher to play the way we play, especially mentally. It wears on you as the game goes on, but that's the way we have to play."
It was successful for all but the last three minutes.
But after Brian Quinnett made a short hook shot to pull the Cougars within 51-50 with 3:21 left, Sean Elliott started a 7-0 run for Arizona by making two free throws with 2:51 remaining.
Elliott, who scored 12 of Arizona's last 20 points to finish with 17 points despite five-of-15 shooting, then rebounded the miss of a three-point attempt by Quinnett, who misfired from the left corner.
How did the shot feel as it left Quinnett's hands?
"Felt great," the senior center said. "Looked bad."
Arizona eventually got the ball into the hands of guard Ken Lofton, who hadn't made any of his previous four shots, but stepped up with 1:59 left to can a three-point attempt from in front of the Arizona bench.
A steal by Elliott on Washington State's next possession led to his driving layup, giving the Wildcats a 58-50 lead with 1:06 left.
The threat had ended.
Had the game gone as planned?
"Oh, yeah," Coach Lute Olson deadpanned. "That's what I told the guys today: I want this thing to go right down to the wire and then we'll knock down every shot and every free throw in the final five minutes.
"You know, they're very, very coachable young men."
Arizona, which has lost only to No. 2-ranked Oklahoma in the last two months, won despite registering a season-low point total and making only 41.6% of its shots, its worst shooting performance against a Pac-10 foe.
The Wildcats, who have won 38 of their last 40 games against conference competition, will meet Oregon State (22-6) today in the semifinals.
Washington State ended the season with a 10-19 record.
"I'm very, very pleased with our effort," Olson said, seriously this time. "I'm not pleased with our shooting, but that's going to happen.
"I don't think it was a question of not getting the same kinds of shots that we've been getting all season."
It was a question of not making them consistently.
Center Anthony Cook was the Wildcats' most effective player, making eight of 16 shots and leading Arizona with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
His often-overlooked teammate, Jud Buechler, scored 11 points and pulled down seven rebounds. And Sampson, whose job requires an eye for such things, later described the junior forward as "the greatest role player in America."
Quinnett led Washington State with 20 points and seven rebounds. Guard Harold Wright scored 12 points for the Cougars, who finished eighth in the Pac-10.