Arizona coach Sean Miller wasn’t sure his team should have won the game but was thrilled it did.
“Credit Justin Coleman,” Miller said. “He’s just one of those guys the bigger the moment he seems to rise to the challenge.”
The Aggies rallied from 11 down at the half and neither team led by more than three in the final 14:55.
Cal Davis coach Jim Les couldn’t find much to fault from a team that got off to a tough start to the season despite having four starters back, including Shorts, the Big West player of the year.
“I thought we had a really good week in practice,” Les said. “I thought our preparation was good. What they did in practice, they did tonight. On this stage, I think that says a lot about who they are and who they are going forward.”
“In the second half clearly it was UC Davis’ game,” Miller said. “Clearly we were very lucky and very fortunate to win. We didn’t really have an answer but I have to credit the way they played. Having said that, on our end, we have no room for error. We have to do things right. We have to play with great effort, togetherness.”
Chase Jeter called Shorts “a great player” and “very hard to guard.”
Shorts, listed at 5-foot-9, made 10 of 15 shots, many on drives to the basket against bigger defenders.
Coleman’s 3 put Arizona ahead 70-68 and the Aggies failed twice to tie or take the lead after that. Shorts’ layup attempt was off the mark over the outstretched arms of Jeter with 53 seconds left and Rogers Pritup threw up an airball at the buzzer.
Jeter led Arizona (9-4) with 16 and Brandon Randolph added 15.
Shorts scored a season-high 25 for the Aggies (3-8). Siler Schneider and Garrison Goode added 13 apiece.
The close call came a week after Arizona’s 52-game home nonconference winning streak ended with a loss to Baylor.
The Wildcats don’t play again until Jan. 3, when they are home against Colorado in their Pac-12 opener.
Down by as many as 15 in the first half, the Aggies used an 11-2 run early in the second half to tie it. Goode drove the lane and was fouled by Ira Lee and the subsequent free throw that made it a three-point play that made it 48-48 with 14:55 remaining. Damion Squire sank a pair of 3s in the outburst.
There were eight ties and UC Davis finally got the lead 64-62 on Shorts’ driving layup with 5:14 left. Randolph tied it with two free throws before Shorts scored again on a drive and the Aggies led 66-64 with 3:35 remaining. Coleman made one of two free throws before Jeter made two from the line to put Arizona back on top 67-66 1:54 from the finish.
Shorts followed with a layup to put Cal Davis back on top 68-67 with 1:37 left and set up Coleman’s big shot.
Arizona: The Wildcats took care of Montana and, barely, UC-Davis after their 52-game nonconference home winning streak came to an end with a loss against Baylor.
Still, the Wildcats’ close call on Saturday show there’s need for practice time to work on some issues if they want to be relevant in the Pac-12 with play starting in two weeks.
UC-Davis: The Aggies have four starters back from last year’s Big West championship team and should be contenders to win it again, despite losing seven of their first eight nonconference games.
UC-Davis: hosts Loyola-Marymount on Friday night.
Arizona: hosts Colorado on Jan. 3 in their Pac-12 opener.