Arizona’s Derrick Williams refuses to discuss future plans
With his recent brilliant play in front of a national audience, many figure Arizona star sophomore Derrick Williams will leave for NBA riches after this season.
But following his team-high 20 points in the Wildcats’ 65-63 loss to Connecticut on Saturday at Honda Center in the NCAA West Regional final, the Pacific 10 Conference player of the year wasn’t ready to discuss whether he had played his last college game.
“I’m not answering any questions about that, no questions about the next level, no questions about the NBA,” Williams said.
If Williams does leave, it will be after the former La Mirada High star scored in double figures in every game but one this season. His 741 points are the third-most in one season in school history, behind only Khalid Reeves’ 848 in 1993-94 and Sean Elliott’s 743 in ‘88-’89.
And his free throws made (247) and attempted (331) are both single-season school records.
But it certainly wasn’t the way Williams wanted his season to end. He was limited to seven minutes in the first half because of foul trouble and made only one of six three-pointers for the game, missing a potential game-winning shot from beyond the arc with seven seconds left.
Arizona junior forward Jesse Perry said he would support Williams regardless of whether he returns to Tucson.
“Whatever Derrick decides to do will be best for him and his family, and if he comes back that will be great,” said Perry, who had 14 points. “But if he leaves, we love him no matter what.”
No Pac of dogs
Arizona’s run to a regional final was the deepest any Pacific 10 Conference team had advanced in the NCAA tournament since UCLA reached the Final Four in 2008.
The four Pac-10 teams selected for the tournament this year represented a twofold increase over last season and finished a combined 5-4, with only USC failing to win at least one game.
“People just don’t give our conference a lot of credit, and I’m not sure why,” Williams said. “The Pac-10, I think it is coming back now.”
A reporter began his question by stating that Connecticut was picked to finish ninth in the Big East Conference.
“Tenth,” junior guard Kemba Walker corrected, a smile forming.
Walker had just scored 20 points and was still a little feisty after helping his team advance to the Final Four for the second time in the last three years.
“I thought that we were better than 10th,” he said of the preseason pick. “We didn’t do that much better because it’s a tough league. We finished ninth. But like I said, we stuck through everything and that’s why we’re going to the Final Four.”
On the rise
Arizona Coach Sean Miller said he reminded his players after the crushing defeat that they had come a long way only one year removed from a 16-15 season.
“To be where we were, a shot to go to the Final Four, 30-8, it will probably feel better in a few weeks than it does now,” said Miller, who completed his second season with the Wildcats.
Miller said he wanted to use Arizona’s postseason push as a “trampoline and a springboard” for more runs to return the program to its NCAA successes of the past.
The crowd included former Connecticut center Emeka Okafor and former Arizona forward Luke Walton, whose NBA teams will clash Sunday when Okafor and the New Orleans Hornets play Walton’s Lakers at Staples Center.
Walton’s image on the video scoreboard drew a prolonged “Luu-uuke” chant from the large contingent of Arizona fans. Okafor, who led Connecticut to the 2004 national title, participated in the Huskies’ celebration on the court and in the locker room.
“They had a decent regular season,” Okafor said, “but as with all [Coach Jim] Calhoun teams, once the tournament started the toughness came out.”
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