SAN JOSE, Calif. – And so ends the once-promising season of Arizona, arguably Sean Miller’s best overall team in his eight years.
It had offense to go with its defense and more than one star player to go to when – or if – anything went bad.
Or at least that’s what we all thought … then came Thursday night at SAP Center where Xavier, a seven-point underdog, found a way – many ways – to get the chance at the Elite Eight. Xavier won 73-71 ending Arizona’s season at 32-5 and far short of what was expected, most recently considered one of the three favorites to win it all in Phoenix just more than a week from now.
“It’s never easy when it ends, especially if you have a great team or had a great season,” said Miller as he opened his postgame press conference. “I think it’s always important, especially as the leader of our team and program, that we define our own success. And I think if you’re a team that is 32-5, you win both the Pac-12 regular season and also the Pac-12 Tournament, and our journey ends in the Sweet 16, it’s hard to look at that as not getting it done or failure.
“But our goal and aspiration is always to challenge for a Final Four and get there. And we pulled up short. I cannot say enough good things about Xavier. It’s not because I used to be there. I think their coach is awesome. He had his way with us tonight. He called plays, timeouts, underneath out of bounds, he got his players some great shots.”
And they went in. Arizona’s defense – good at times this season and other times not so much – was not as good as it needed to be. And Arizona’s offense, mostly good at times and other times not so much, failed it on Thursday.
If it wasn’t one thing it was the other – in spurts.
“We lost to a very good team,” said senior Kadeem Allen.
Still, Arizona had a chance to advance when Allonzo Trier took a 20-footer with just seconds remaining only to see it go in and out. He said it looked good when the shot left his hand.
“I was happy to get a solid look up (at the basket),” Trier said. “They took away the initial look but I was able to create separation and get a clean look off. It went in and out.”
And now, Arizona is out of its chance to reach the Final Four, something that’s eluded Miller for his career.
“I’m disappointed to see it end this way,” Markkanen said. “I’m proud of these guys; they played their hearts out.”
Arizona looked to have it under control, going on a 12-0 run to get a 69-61 lead with 3:44 left. A minute later, Arizona had a seven-point lead with Kadeem Allen hit a driving layup.
It turned out to be Arizona’s last basket.
“Very few times, if we’re up eight points with I think under four minutes (we don’t) lose. But we did.”
This was not Rosemont, Illinois of 2015. And clearly not Raleigh, N.C. of 2004 where Arizona had double-digit leads only to see them dwindle into a loss.
How did it get to this point?
“They made their run last,” said Trier, who had 19 points. “They had the last run and we didn’t do a good job of defending them for the last four minutes of the game. And they kind of … it’s a tough way to go out.”
Even tougher knowing your best player – one of college basketball’s best – Lauri Markkanen had just nine points, and no shots or points in the final 11 minutes.
“Their zone defense (was tough). I was trying to get the ball in the middle,” Markkanen said. “There were too many people there. I wasn’t able to get the ball much. They did a good job when I had the ball.”
But now it’s over. The suddenness of it all hurt.
“The icing on the cake would be a perfect ending (in) going to the Final Four,” Trier said. “It’s tough when you feel you could have done it.”