Oh, what a beginning it was for the Arizona Wildcats vs. Texas A&M. And, oh my, what an ending it turned out to be, almost making the beginning a moot point.
Such has been the case for yet another teaching moment for Sean Miller and his Wildcats, which survived the Aggies 67-63 in Houston. UA is now 10-2 overall.
The Texas Shootout almost became a Flameout for the Wildcats after holding a 22-point lead in the second half. And not that it rivaled the collapse of UA’s game vs. Illinois 10 years ago (sorry for bringing that up) given the NCAA tournament ramifications back then, but it was hard to watch on Saturday. At least the waning minutes were.
You figured: how in the world is this happening?
Well, Arizona leaked oil in the end, sputtering as it couldn’t stop A&M from going on an 18-2 run. UA missed five shots in the final five minutes and added five turnovers, turning it into a water-torture final four minutes.
Drip, drip, drip.
“It’s always good to go away from home and get a big road win,” said UA assistant coach Mark Phelps, filling in for Miller on the postgame radio show. “Give Texas A&M a lot of credit, (it) made it a lot closer than we would have liked. It’s a real learning opportunity.”
To play tougher down the stretch … even when playing with just seven scholarship players?
How many learning experiences can one team handle or go through – even on a short winter break when classes are out?
Apparently, you can never have too many.
Saturday morning in its brunch matchup with the Aggies, Arizona was hungry for 30 minutes – ate a lot to build its lead – then loosened its fat pants (I have no idea what those are?) to allow A&M to get back in the game.
Arizona can thank its foreign connection for getting the win. Dusan Ristic, the presence Arizona needs near the basket, showed up early, scoring 14 first-half points en route to an 18-point day. Freshman Lauri Markkanen added 17 points and eight rebounds.
What it shows is Ristic can be fantastic at times or invisible in others. Saturday, he was the former. And that’s a good thing.
“(Ristic) was very efficient early and allowed us a lead we needed down the homestretch,” Phelps said.
Surprisingly, every point and possession mattered, something you didn’t think would happen with 10 minutes left in the game. UA was up 58-36 and rolling. Heck, the biggest thought from me was when would Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Allonzo Trier be back in uniform? My guess is Trier will be back soon and Jackson-Cartwright much later.
ESPN panned to the duo quite a lot on Saturday.
Arizona could have used the two to settle down their teammates. Maybe the point here is the team you watched on Saturday afternoon clearly won’t be the one you’ll be watching in another month – and that’s a good thing. That’s not to say there won’t be more teaching moments down the road either.
Arizona was just good enough to pass this test and get away from the Shootout with a win – despite the end.