COLLEGE PLACE - The Walla Walla University Wolves had their chance to beat the Arizona Christian University Firestorm Thursday night at the Wolves Den. They had 1.9 seconds remaining, the ball under their basket to be in bounded and were down by two points. They even took a timeout to set up the play.
WWU in-bounded a pass from underneath the hoop to guard Mark Moore, who had already canned a couple of well guarded 3's, in the right corner outside the 3-point line. Moore rose up with a man in his face and hit iron, but the ball bounced away from the hoop as time expired and the Wolves fell to the Firestorm, 79-77.
With the loss, WWU, an NAIA Division II independent, fell to 4-19 on the season.
"The way that last play was set up, the defense really determines what we go for and we've got our center screening for our guard," WWU Coach Jimmy Hill said. "If both defenders jump on the shooter then we'll take the lay-up for the big man underneath the hoop, but that's not how it happened. It was just as well though, because we needed to go for the win with all of the guys we had in foul trouble ... So we were definitely thinking win after already prolonging the game the last five minutes by fouling so much."
The Firestorm went 15-of-21 from the charity stripe in the last five minutes, just enough to escape with the victory. Overall, ACU made 24-of-33, or 72.7 percent, from the line.
In the last five minutes, the Wolves were aggressive in erasing an 11-point deficit over the final five minutes, and went 15-of-16 from the line down the stretch. WWU shot 81.5 percent from the line on the night.
"That is the position you put yourself in when you're down 11 and have five minutes to go, you've got to start playing more aggressively on defense and foul," Hill said. "They did a good job of making just enough of (their free throws) and not really letting us back in the game."
The Wolves had two steals in the final five minutes that led to buckets. Moore also had one of his 3-pointers down the stretch and nailed three free throws when he was fouled going for another 3.
Hill didn't blame Moore for missing the last shot, he placed the loss on the team.
"It really came down to playing a little smarter earlier so we didn't have to trail a lot of the game and get in a tough position at the end of the game," Hill said. "Sometimes the shots fall for you and sometimes they don't. We created some decent shots there at the end and they just didn't go down for us. We'll take our chances with the effort we showed down the stretch."
The Wolves were balanced on offense, with three cracking double digits and two more coming close. Josh Hough had 18 points and 10 boards. Bryce Doherty had 11 points and five assists. Moore had 16 points and six rebounds. Andrew Bailey and Taylor Lewis chipped in with nine points apiece.
"When we play well the scoring is spread out," Hill said. "It is one guy maybe getting around 20 and then three or four other guys scoring around 10. Then we have everybody else chipping with five-to-9 points. That is the way we want it to look. We want to play around nine to ten bodies and have everybody spread out the scoring.
"We don't put an emphasis on one guy," Hill said. "We put it on whoever has the best matchup. We took advantage of several different matchups tonight."
The Firestorm's A.J. Koch finished with 28 points.
"A.J. is tough matchup," Hill said. "He penetrates really well and steps out to shoot it really well. You almost have to have a quick, big guard him. He was really good especially early on when he had 17 points at the half.
"We didn't do a good enough job locating him and making those shots tough enough early enough," Hill continued. "Once he gets going, then he is a handful. If you make him miss some shots early, then it is a little easier to contain him."
The Wolves had 19 turnovers on the night, compared to just 14 assists.
"We definitely had too many turnovers," Hill said. "We were looking somewhere in the 14-16 area to give us a chance to win the game. It doesn't seem like a big difference in what we did and wanted to do with turnovers but it was three more possessions that we didn't get. Those three extra possessions probably would have led to a tie or win with how we were shooting as a team."
The Wolves shot 39.3 percent from the field; the Firestorm shot 43.9 percent. WWU outrebounded ACU 42-35.
The Wolves look to bounce back Feb. 3 at Multnomah University Bible College at 2 p.m.
Arizona Christian University 79, Walla Walla University 77
ARIZONA CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY (79) - Culbert 4-6 1-2 9, Friend 2-7 2-2 6, Suniga 3-8 5-6 11, Koch 8-14 9-13 28, Cole 1-5 2-4 4, Augustine 2-3 1-2 5, Mirza 1-1 0-0 3, James 0-2 0-0 0, Amand 1-3 0-0 3, Avent 1-5 2-2 4, Cornelius 2-3 2-2 6. Totals 25-57 24-33 79.
WALLA WALLA UNIVERSITY (77) - Doherty 3-6 4-4 11, Hough 8-14 2-4 18, Bailey 3-6 3-4 9, Moore 3-16 8-8 16, Lewis 3-9 1-2 9, Alemu 1-3 0-1 3, Stimmel 1-2 2-2 4, Luckett 1-2 0-0 2, Woody 1-3 1-2 5. Totals 24-61 22-27 77.
Halftime - Tied at 38. 3-point goals - ACU 5-14 (Koch 3, Mirza, Amand), WWU 7-20 (Doherty, Moore 2, Lewis 2, Alemu, Woody). Total fouls - ACU 24, WWU 25. Fouled out - WWU (Doherty). Technical fouls - none. Rebounds - ACU 35 (Culbert 9), WWU 42 (Hough 10, Bailey 10). Assists - ACU 12 (Culbert 3, Suniga 3), WWU 14 (Doherty 5). Turnovers - ACU 15, WWU 19.