Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona 31, BYU 21

December, 21, 2008
12/21/08
12:24
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Arizona still doesn't know how to win a close game under coach Mike Stoops, not that Stoops or the Wildcats give a hoot after winning the Las Vegas Bowl 31-21 over No. 17 BYU.

 
 AP Photo/Louie Traub
 Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama saved his best for the postseason, throwing for 328 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-21 win over BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.

This one felt like a close game for the most part, only the Wildcats were too busy asserting themselves in the second half to recognize that some were employing that measuring stick.

Here's a guess that Stoops and his players prefer this measurement: An 8-5 final record, a win over rival Arizona State and the program's first bowl victory in a decade.

It was a big win for the Wildcats, who made a statement for the Pac-10 on the first day of the bowl season against the Mountain West Conference, which won the regular-season series against the Pac-10, 6-1.

Quarterback Willie Tuitama, who rewrote the Wildcats passing record book, turned in his best performance of the season when his team needed him most. He completed 24 of 35 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also ran eight yards for the decisive score that made the fourth-quarter count 31-14.

The Wildcats tried to make it a close game at the end by flubbing an onsides kick, but BYU couldn't take advantage.

A bowl win should make it a pleasant offseason for Stoops, who has been on the hot seat for much of the past two seasons. It also might give the Wildcats an uptick in recruiting vs. Arizona State, which posted a 10-win season last year under first-year coach Dennis Erickson but slipped to 5-7 in 2008.

Perhaps the Territorial Cup rivalry is about to gain some relevance beyond the bitterness between the schools.

It was a feel-good evening for the Wildcats in other ways.

Receiver Mike Thomas, who had an off night, caught a short pass on the final play of the game to become the Pac-10's all-time receptions leader with 259 catches. He broke the record held by former Arizona State great Derek Hagan.

The Wildcats also handled a physical running game for perhaps the first time all season, holding the Cougars to just 116 rushing yards.

But the biggest reward was showing some gumption. The Wildcats fell behind 14-10 in the third quarter, but rolled up 21 unanswered points to take control.

The killer: With the score just 24-14, and BYU with a first down on the Arizona 31, cornerback Marquis Hundley grabbed a brilliant interception over his shoulder in the endzone with 10 minutes left to kill the Cougars drive.

And now the Pac-10, maligned much of the regular season, starts the postseason 1-0, looking to continue a run at redemption.

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