CHICAGO - Arizona keeps winning without coach Lute Olson. Jerryd Bayless made six free throws in the final 31 seconds of overtime, and the 22nd-ranked Wildcats pulled out a 78-72 victory over Illinois on Saturday, two days after learning their Hall of Fame coach would not return this season.
Arizona (6-2) caught a major break at the end of regulation, when the referee ignored Nic Wise's signal for a timeout the Wildcats did not have. The game went into overtime, where Bayless and Chase Budinger made the key contributions.
Moments after hitting a free throw, Budinger took a charge on Brian Randle with 2:06 left in the extra period that negated a basket that would have tied it at 67. Then, he put back his own miss, and Bayless drove the lane for a dunk that made it 71-65 with 1:01 left.
The Illini cut it to 72-69 on Shaun Pruitt's basket with 35 seconds remaining, and they were within 74-72 after Trent Meacham hit a 3-pointer following two free throws by Bayless.
But Bayless made two more with 23 seconds left and two more with 8.8 seconds to go to seal the win. Those were his only free throws of the game.
Jordan Hill had 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Wildcats, while Bayless had 20 points.
Pruitt had 24 points and nine rebounds and Meacham had 16 points for Illinois (5-3), which finished 10-of-22 from the free throw line.
The wild win capped an emotional week for the Wildcats, who learned Thursday that Olson would not return this season.
The coach filed for a divorce from his second wife, Christine, that day and announced he was extending a leave of absence that began on Nov. 4. Olson plans to return for the 2008-09 season, but the Wildcats are doing just fine under interim coach Kevin O'Neill.
They jumped back into the poll after upsetting then-No. 9 Texas A&M on Sunday at home, and managed to salvage the win against Illinois.
The Wildcats trailed the whole game until Hill dunked with 55 seconds left in regulation to make it 59-58. After Illinois regained the lead, Arizona tied it at 61 with seven seconds left when a falling Hill scored on a putback. Then, the Wildcats caught the major break as time expired.
The Illini's Chester Frazier raced up the left sideline and was stripped by Wise, who signaled for a timeout. The referee, who was looking right at him, did not blow the whistle.
So instead of a technical foul that would have given Illinois a chance to win it, the game went into overtime.