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January 3, 2006

Hometown kid silences boos

Put Arizona back in the group of Final Four contenders.

The No. 21 Wildcats earned that status by emerging from a double-overtime thriller at then-No. 7 Washington with a hard-fought 96-95 win Saturday. It was the Huskies' first loss and ended their best start since 1975. It also involved a gutsy comeback from 13 points down at the half.

None of it would have happened without Arizona freshman Marcus Williams. The small forward scored 16 points - including three in the second overtime - and pulled down a team-high nine rebounds against the Huskies. He played 44 of the possible 50 minutes.

That performance, along with a 15-point, 5-rebound outing in the Wildcats' 70-52 win at Washington State Thursday, made Williams Rivals.com's Freshman of the Week.

The dramatic win over the Huskies was particularly sweet for Williams, who is from Seattle and grew up playing with and against many of the Huskies.

"I think it will go down as one of the best games all year and go right alongside that double-overtime game between Michigan State and Gonzaga ('Zags won 109-106)," Williams told Rivals.com. "The stars in the game played great and it was just phenomenal.

"I felt really lucky since it was in my hometown and my family was there. Usually, guys get to play in their hometowns once in their career, but I get to go every year and this time it came early in the Pac-10 schedule in what turned out to be the biggest game I ever played in."

The homecoming turned out not to be so pleasant at first. Outside of Williams' dozen friends and family at the game, he received little crowd support. The Huskies' racous student section booed Williams, who was seriously recruited by UW but "really wanted to get away from home," throughout the afternoon.

Williams silenced many of the fans by nailing a jumper that put the Wildcats up 94-92 with 3:06 left in the second overtime and hitting the second of two free throw attempts with 57 seconds left to put the 'Cats up 95-94.

"I knew there would be a lot of booing, that is part of the game," Williams said. "Some fans were yelling about the Michigan State game (he missed two key free throws in regulation of a 74-71 loss to the Spartans) when I got fouled, so it was really big for me to hit that free throw."

Williams' emergence has been really big for Arizona, which was the Pac-10 preseason favorite, but fell out of the AP top 25 after a 2-5 start. Williams averaged 16.6 minutes over that stretch.

The former four-star recruit has played 29.4 minutes a game since and the Wildcats have rebounded with a seven-game winning streak.

"I came in and tried to be the aggressor at the start," Williams said. "I was eager to produce right away. Coach (Lute) Olson just told me that they were expecting big things from me, but to let the game come to me and try and be more selective. Now, I'm shooting open shots and having a lot more fun."

Several other freshmen played well last week:

• Georgia's Mike Mercer came off the bench to score 22 points in the Bulldogs' 72-69 win over Clemson. It was the Tigers' first loss of the season. Mercer also added 17 points as the Bulldogs cruised past Western Carolina, 89-65.

• No freshman has gotten off to a better start than Memphis' Shawne Williams, who scored 15 in the Tigers' 90-70 win over Purdue and had 14 points and 11 rebounds in their 83-72 win over Gonzaga.

• Duke's Josh McRoberts scored 15 points in the Blue Devils' 102-69 win over UNC-Greensboro.

Shamaine Dukes put together his first double-double, scoring 11 points and dishing out 10 assists to lead Wake Forest past Charleston Southern 87-47.

• Cincinnati's Devan Downey continues to impress, scoring 13 and handing out 11 assists in the Bearcats' 101-69 blowout win over North Carolina A&T. He scored 19 in their 75-65 win over Miami (Ohio).

Jamont Gordon scored in double figures for the 10th time this season, finishing with 16 to lead Mississippi State to a 63-61 win over George Mason.

• UCLA's Luch Richard Mbah a Moute finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds in the Bruins' 71-54 thrashing over Stanford.

• North Carolina's Danny Green came off the bench to score 15 points and pull down 11 rebounds as the Tar Heels rolled past UNC-Asheville 89-47.

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