TUCSON - When Washington State coach Dick Bennett announced his retirement this week, his team tried to come up with a memorable going-away present.
An upset win at Arizona would have been perfect. But the Wildcats withstood Washington State’s emotional second-half rally and hung on for a 66-61 victory Thursday night in McKale Center.
Marcus Williams scored 17 points and Mustafa Shakur added 13 as Arizona (18-10, 11-6) closed in on its 22nd straight NCAA tournament appearance, the nation’s longest active streak. The Wildcats have won five of their last six games.
‘‘It’s probably good that I resigned,’’ Bennett joked after the game. ‘‘A few more (losses) and they’d have fired me.’’
A year ago in McKale Center, Bennett led the Cougars to their only win in their last 42 games against Arizona. Needing a victory to solidify their NCAA hopes, the Wildcats wasted little time re-establishing their dominance against the eighth-place Cougars, whom they defeated 70-52 Dec. 29 in Pullman.
‘‘We are playing the best that we have played all year long,’’ Arizona coach Lute Olson. ‘‘One of the keys is that Mustafa is running his team and Marcus is a guy who continually comes up big.’’
Kyle Weaver had 12 points to lead Washington State (11-15, 4-13), playing for the first time since Bennett announced he would retire after three seasons at Washington State. Bennett, 62, will pass the reins to his son Tony, who is his top assistant.
In a brief pregame ceremony, Arizona coach Lute Olson announced that the athletic department would treat Bennett to a weekend at a Tucson-area golf resort.
Early in the game, it was easy to understand why Bennett might want to retire. Arizona hit six of its first seven shots from the floor, limiting their opponents to 38.5 percent shooting from the floor — no small achievement against the defense-oriented Cougars, who lead the Pac-10 in field goal defense. Arizona shot 54.2 percent from the floor in the first half.
Arizona used a 9-2 run to open up a 19-9 lead eight minutes into the game. First Hassan Adams and Shakur hit jump shots. Then, after a dunk by Washington State center Aaron Baynes, Adams fed forward Ivan Radenovic, who was fouled making a layup. Radenovic hit the free throw, and Williams made an 18-foot jumper to end the run.