BOISE, Idaho — And so it ends – much like it began in the Bahamas.
Lack of focus. Lack of heart. Lack of a lot of things.
Back then – seems like yesterday – there were three perplexing losses in a matter of three days. All it took was one in March and it came in a thunderous roar by Buffalo here at Taco Bell Arena.
Arizona lost 89-68 in the first round of the NCAA tournament for Sean Miller, who has just finished year nine. Will there be a 10? More later.
It was almost an indifference by the Cats on Thursday night.
Not how I wanted my season to end…still grateful for all the blessings this season has brought me 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/TkPUDmFxQQ
— Deandre Ayton (@DeandreAyton) March 16, 2018
It was a surprise, but not a surprise in as much as if you are who you are Arizona was inconsistent all season, so what was to expect it to be when it all mattered?
And March matters. March is a time when players and coaches are judged no matter how the regular season goes.
So I asked: how will this season be remembered at the end of the day and beyond?
“I can only go on what we’ve done,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “We’re 27-8. We made the tournament. We got beat by a really good team. We didn’t play well. They had a lot to do with it.”
Miller said his team worked hard and smart to get ready for Buffalo, one of the best teams Arizona faced this season. But in retrospect, who did Arizona really beat this season? Was there anyone any good?
Hell, the Pac-10 was a smoke-and-mirrors league, given what’s happened in the NCAA tournament … a Conference of Cupcakes.
All three Pac-12 teams – UCLA, Arizona State and now Arizona – have been disposed in the first three games. To say it’s an embarrassment to the conference would be an understatement.
Now the crown jewel is gone.
It was also an embarrassment for Arizona in what was as one-sided a loss as I’ve seen UA suffer. Twenty years ago, it was Utah in the Elite Eight when UA had no answer. It was nearly 30 years ago when it had no answer for East Tennessee State.
Then came the Buffalo Bulls. Did you hear the stampede?
The ironic thing is Sean Miller first recruited guys based on defense first. Resulted in 3 Elite Eight appearances, but fans screamed for more offense. Last 3 years, as offense improved, the defense suffered. Tourney results have been disastrous.
— WildcatSportsReport (@WSRArizona) March 16, 2018
It had been slowing building all season for UA. Team Turmoil couldn’t avoid it.
Just months ago, UA began the season as the No. 2 team in the country and proceeded to be out of the top 25 in the first month. It never recovered, despite the wins along the way.
Heck, midway through the season, Miller, in a show of frustration, said he wasn’t sure if he was getting through to his players. They sure weren’t playing like he was. But they recovered, again beating now-thought-of weak conference opponents that clearly didn’t prepare the Wildcats for what was ahead.
Still, the season took a back seat to all the issues that came up.
• Rawle Alkins being out early with a broken foot. It sidelined him for the first few weeks.
• The FBI investigation that lingered early and showed up again late. Whether anyone or any player wanted to admit it, it was a clear issue because it wouldn’t go away and likely won’t for months.
• Allonzo Trier being suspended for a couple of games because of the return of PED remnants in his system.
Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee and Emmanuel Akot all say they're coming back next season. Akot said he won't even test the NBA draft. Arizona has six players lined up for 2018-19 roster as of now.
— Bruce Pascoe (@BrucePascoe) March 16, 2018
Arizona’s perfect storm was something it couldn’t weather.
“It’s very disappointing to go out like this,” said UA freshman phenom Deandre Ayton. “We had big expectations to go far in the tournament.”
After all, wasn’t this the most talented team ever assembled here at UA? Didn’t it have the most talented player to ever play for UA in Ayton?
In the end, it was not to be – much like everything else this season.
Trier, who sat out games late last month, admitted that “his flow got (screwed) up. I was in a good rhythm and everything kind of sent me back. It is what it is. I couldn’t get back on track.
“Anytime you get in a rhythm and you pop back up and then you don’t play for a couple of days and you get out of rhythm it didn’t help. I’m not going to make any excuses but it didn’t help.”
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 16, 2018
It was almost one thing after another that felt like a pile on – deserved or not. It was there.
Buffalo was just the proverbial straw that broke the Cats’ back.
“It’s tough,” Trier said. “I didn’t want to go out this way. I don’t think it makes it any easier.”
It never does. Whether it’s a last-second loss to Wisconsin or to Santa Clara or Wichita State. And on and on.
“We endured a lot from the beginning,” said senior Parker Jackson-Cartwright. “People kind of wrote us off. And I thought we responded every time that happened. We kind of fought through everything. People were writing about us or tearing us down. We felt like coming into tonight we were playing good basketball, and for it to end like this is just really disappointing.”
And yet, it’s still not over.
What will become of Miller, who just two weeks ago proclaimed his innocence regarding his involvement into the FBI probe? Does he want any more of the pressure that comes along with the job of being the UA coach? Does the administration want him?
Does the FBI have even more than we know?
Those answers will come at some point – maybe soon, maybe not. But what’s clear is he has no recruits for next year yet and Ayton, Alkins, Trier aren’t coming back.
“I think Sean Miller will do some great things as he’s always done,” Trier said. “We had a lot of young guys who will be back. The program is in their hands and they will be adding players as well.”
Time will tell, time will tell.