TUCSON – With their Wildcats leading by two points with 2.9 seconds to play, Arizona fans at McKale Center were on their feet anticipating another victory over Arizona State in their basketball rivalry.
The Sun Devils had no timeouts and one chance at a miracle.
Then Desmond Cambridge Jr. delivered one.
Cambridge took an inbound pass from Jamiya Neal, dribbled once and launched a shot from Lute Olson’s signature well beyond half-court that dropped through the net as Cambridge skipped down court to greet his onrushing teammates.
The home crowd’s screams turned to groans of disbelief as the Sun Devils celebrated an improbable 89-88 victory Saturday.
“That was definitely the craziest experience, the best game I have ever been a part of,” Cambridge said after the game. “It literally hasn’t even set in yet.”
That’s a wrap on assignment for @sportscronkite in Tucson. It’s starting to feel like March Madness in the air. Four buzzer-beaters in one day. Here is a clip of the one I was fortunate enough to witness. #ArizonaState #RivalryGame pic.twitter.com/ypgvrFrXNV
— Lindsay Zienty (@lindsayzienty) February 26, 2023
There was much on the line for both teams entering the matchup. The Wildcats were hoping to overtake UCLA for the top spot in the Pac-12 race and win their final home game of the season.
The Sun Devils, meanwhile, were clinging to their hopes for a NCAA Tournament bid and needed a signature win to improve their chances of bursting the bubble into March Madness. The game delivered tournament quality play from both teams, and an ending that will leave an indelible impression.
“I hope people are watching to see the level of the game,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “That’s what the postseason is about. They want teams that could perform like that on a national stage. And I think you saw two teams that you know should be in the postseason.”
The teams traded leads until the Wildcats appeared to be pulling away, leading by 10 with 6:30 to play. However, the Sun Devils clamped down defensively and clawed back into the game down the stretch.
“If you are playing a tough game and a team has to hit a 60-footer to beat you, you’re probably taking that on most days,” said Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd. “Right when it left his hand, I thought it had a chance.”
Wildcats guard Courtney Ramey acknowledged that Cambridge “hit a big time shot.”
“That’s all I can say,” Ramey said. “If he shot that shot 10 times, I don’t think he’d get that result. But he’s a good player, and we gave him a chance to make that shot.”
Before the dramatic ending, Arizona big man Oumar Ballo stood at the line to shoot two free throws with 2.9 seconds on the clock. He missed his first attempt but hit the second. The make gave the Sun Devils a chance to run an inbound play rather than have to rebound the ball and create something on the run.
It would lead to the game winner, and Lloyd took the blame for not having Ballo intentionally miss the second attempt.
“That’s on me and not on the guys on those decisions,” Lloyd said. “I just didn’t want to put more on Oumar’s plate.”
The Wildcats will try to bounce back with upcoming games on the road against USC and UCLA to close out the season.
“I’ve already moved on.” said Lloyd, who expects his players to do the same. “They better have moved on, too.”
The loss could be costly for the Wildcats, who were in contention for a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the Wildcats allowed UCLA to win at least a share of the Pac-12 regular season championship.
Lloyd said he will not let it affect this team and is apparently convinced it won’t hurt the Wildcats in the seeding process.
“Maybe it impacts things a little bit here and there, but not enough to matter,” he said.
Ramey said the Wildcats just have to move on and get prepared for what’s next.
“It’s tough to lose your last game at home,” he said. “We got two more games to play against two good teams, then we have the Pac-12 Tournament. Then we are going to get ready for March.”
Ramey also believes the loss will serve as motivation for the Wildcats.
“We’re going to be a hungry team now after today’s game,” he said. “We’re going to buckle up and get better.”
Cambridge believes the victory will serve as a confidence booster for the Sun Devils and could help propel them through their upcoming games against the LA schools.
“It definitely gives us a lot of confidence, especially with these next two tough games on our schedule,” he said.
“To do it against a team like Arizona, especially with our backs up against the wall as far as where we are in our season. I think this is good for us and gives us motivation.”