78 - 72 Final - OT
  for this game

Arizona, Budinger rally past Illinois in OT

Dec 8, 2007 - 10:31 PM CHICAGO (Ticker) -- Chase Budinger and Arizona finished a lot better than they started on Saturday.

Budinger sank his only two field goals of the game in overtime to help the 24th-ranked Wildcats rally from an early deficit to defeat Illinois, 78-72, in the December to Remember Classic.

It was the first game for the Wildcats (6-2) since coach Lute Olson announced on Thursday that he will not return this season from a leave of absence, which was originally announced on November 4. On Friday, the 73-year-old Olson filed for divorce from his second wife.

"For us this is a huge win," Arizona interim coach Kevin O'Neill said. "It's a huge win for Lute, and we're proud to be coaching and playing for Coach. And we're going to miss him a lot."

The Fighting Illini (5-3) opened the game with a 12-0 run as the Wildcats turned the ball over on six of their first seven possessions. Center Shaun Pruitt and forward Brian Randle each scored six points during the opening rally.

The Wildcats finally got on the board on guard Jawan McClellan's layup, but end up trailing, 35-28, at the half.

Arizona chipped away at its deficit in the second half and eventually took its first lead at 59-58 with 57 seconds left on a dunk by forward Jordan Hill.

The Illini got a basket from Calvin Brock and a free throw from Trent Meacham to take a 61-59 edge with 21 seconds left in regulation. But Hill's offensive rebound and layup with 10 seconds left sent the game into overtime.

Hill finished with a career-high 23 points to go along with 14 rebounds.

Budinger opened overtime with a jumper and later gave the Wildcats a 69-65 lead with 1:28 left on a layup. The sophomore forward, who entered the game averaging 18.4 points, finished with just eight.

Illinois closed within 74-72 on a 3-pointer by Meacham, but Arizona freshman guard Jerryd Bayless made four free throws down the stretch to close things out.

After scoring just three points in the first half, Bayless finished with 12 points.

Pruitt led Illinois with 20 points and seven rebounds. Randle and Meacham each finished with 11.

As a team, Illinois was only 10-of-22 from the free-throw line.

"Free throws have plagued us the last two years," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "Especially down the stretch, we didn't hit the free throws.

"We could have won the game, iced the game, taken control of the game, and we just didn't. We had some breakdowns down the stretch."

Arizona caught a huge break in the closing seconds of regulation when guard Nic Wise appeared to signal for a timeout even though the Wildcats did not have any left. Luckily for Arizona, the official did not blow the whistle.

If a technical foul had been called, Illinois would have had a final chance to win the game.

"I just said he tried to call time out, and (the referee) said, 'How could you hear that from over there?'" Weber said. "I said, 'I didn't have to hear it. I saw it.' When that happens, it's a tough call. I would have felt bad for the kid."