Jerryd Bayless figures the best way to honor coach Lute Olson is to keep winning without him. To that end, Arizona is succeeding.
Bayless, a freshman point guard, made six free throws in the final 31 seconds of overtime as the No. 22 Wildcats pulled out a 78-72 victory over Illinois yesterday in Chicago, two days after learning that Olson, a Hall of Famer, would not be their coach this season.
"For us this is a huge win," said interim coach Kevin O'Neill, who will fill in for the 73-year-old Olson, who is going through a divorce.
Arizona (6-2) caught a major break at the end of regulation, when an official ignored Nic Wise's apparent signal for a time-out the Wildcats did not have. The game went into overtime, where Bayless and Chase Budinger made the key contributions.
The Fighting Illini (5-3) were within 74-72 after Trent Meacham hit a three-pointer following two free throws by Bayless. But Bayless (20 points) made two more with 24 seconds left and two more with nine seconds to go to seal the win. Those were his only free throws of the game.
"Coach Olson is a great coach," Bayless said. "We're going to give him his privacy, and we're going to wish him the best of whatever is going on. We just have to move on without him."
Jordan Hill had 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Wildcats. For Illinois Shaun Pruitt had a career-high 24 points on 10-for-11 shooting; he also grabbed nine rebounds.
Poor free throw shooting doomed Illinois, which shot only 10 of 22 from the line.
"We could have won the game, iced the game, taken control of the game, and we just didn't," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.