Arizona Basketball

Anaheim Angst: Arizona Wildcats foiled there again in Elite Eight


Four Elite Eight trips to Anaheim, Calif. Four tough defeats. No Final Four.

Former Arizona forward Solomon Hill used the hashtag #AvengeAnaheim on his Twitter account the other day because of the Wildcats’ Elite Eight struggles in the town that ironically features Disneyland. Nothing is magical about Arizona’s experience there over the last 16 years.

The Wildcats could not complete the #AvengeAnaheim mission with a difficult 64-63 overtime loss to Wisconsin tonight. Frank Kaminsky, a versatile 7-footer, led the Badgers with 28 points and 11 rebounds. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, in his 15th season as a head coach, advances to his first Final Four.

Sean Miller, who completed his 10th year as a coach with Xavier and Arizona, will continue his quest for his first Final Four next season.

“I am very disappointed we didn’t get the win but I’m happy for Bo Ryan,” Miller told TBS’s Craig Sager. “They earned it. They were tough to beat.”

In the 1998 Elite Eight at Anaheim, defending national champion Arizona lost 76-51 to Utah because it could not solve the triangle-and-two defense devised by Rick Majerus. In its loss tonight, Arizona, in Miller’s words, “did not have an answer” for Kaminsky.

“I thought the big fella (Kaminsky) for them was the difference,” Miller told Sager.

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Miller lost a heart-breaker to Connecticut in the 2011 Elite Eight in Anaheim as Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne missed desperation three-pointers at the end. This time Nick Johnson could not get a potential game-winner off in the nick of time in overtime against Wisconsin.

“That was the play, pop out, iso(lation) to the left … they made it tough,” Johnson told the media about his failed attempt in the last 2.3 seconds.

Adding to Arizona’s Anaheim misery: The four Elite Eight defeats were suffered by some of Arizona’s finest teams.

The late Majerus stopped Arizona’s quest for a repeat title in 1998. The 2003 team that spent 13 weeks at No. 1 lost to Kansas 78-75. The 2011 team that finished 30-8 with Williams, an NBA lottery pick, came up short against Connecticut.

Arizona finished this season 33-5, the second-most victories in the program’s history. The Wildcats were the No. 1-ranked team for eight consecutive weeks.

Sandwiched between the Anaheim losses was that forgettable collapse against Illinois in the 2005 Elite Eight at Rosemont, Ill., a game that was also lost in overtime.

Arizona won its first three Elite Eight appearances in 1988, 1994 and 1997. The Wildcats are 1-6 since, including four consecutive losses in what has become a treacherous step before the Final Four. Arizona has reached 13 consecutive seasons without a Final Four appearance after earning four in Lute Olson’s first 17 seasons.

Miller was trying to match Olson by taking the Wildcats to his first Final Four in his fifth year in Tucson. Olson’s fifth season in Tucson was with the 1987-88 that reached the Final Four.

Miller is now 0-3 in his personal Elite Elite appearances. He has not reached the Final Four after his two close calls with Arizona and in 2008 with Xavier.

The loss to Wisconsin could be the last game of Johnson’s career at Arizona. A snapshot following the loss to Wisconsin was the injured Brandon Ashley consoling Johnson as they walked off the court. Johnson provided Ashley and the Wildcats that kind of uplifting support all season as the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

The junior from Gilbert, Ariz., could enter the NBA draft in June along with freshman teammates Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

Johnson finished with a team-high 16 points. His career total is 1,333, placing him at No. 24 on the Arizona career scoring list.

Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson came on strong at the end of regulation and overtime after difficult starts. Gordon, who finished with eight points and a career-high 18 rebounds, made three of his last four shots after missing his first seven over the initial 37 minutes, similar to Johnson’s drought against San Diego State on Thursday.

Hollis-Jefferson had 10 points and four rebounds. He was 4 of 7 from the field, including two acrobatic shots and a significant putback after a Johnson airball near the end of regulation.

Senior guard Jordin Mayes concluded his Arizona career with one of his best games of the season, making both of his attempts for four points. One of his baskets was another putback of a Johnson with 1:01 left in overtime to cut Wisconsin’s lead to 64-63.

After Traevon Jackson missed a layup with 31 seconds left, Arizona had a chance for the victory on two occasions.

The first was quelled by a ref who called a controversial charging foul on Johnson with four seconds remaining. An inbound pass was finally ruled to go off Jackson’s hand after a five-minute review by the referees with 2.3 seconds left. That set up Johnson’s potential game-winning basket that was not released in time and fell off the mark. publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.


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