No. 24 Arizona was this/close from beating No. 9 Oregon on Thursday night in Eugene, Oregon. Just like it was that/close from beating Baylor, St. Johns and, well, Gonzaga (kinda).
What does it all mean in mid-to-early January? Not much, only that Arizona’s young guns – Zeke Nnaji, Josh Green and Nico Mannion – will have to grow up quicker with half the season still left. And, yet all three played well, proving UA will need more from them. Arizona’s 74-73 loss to the Ducks proved that, save for a couple of missed calls by the referees and, well, some ill-timed turnovers.
Arizona coach Sean Miller warned his audience – and anyone who would listen – this weekend’s trip to the Northwest wouldn’t be easy. But he also said his team couldn’t “panic” if it won or lost this weekend.
He’s all too aware life is a high-wire act for Arizona and will be for the next 2 ½ months. Arizona walked – don’t you still wish it would run? – the wire on Thursday, eventually falling off in the final moments. UA had chances galore and couldn’t finish.
The learning lab continues to be in session.
“I was really proud of their effort,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said, when asked what he told his team in the post-game locker room. “It was a great game playing into this environment and playing against Oregon.
“To beat a good team, you have to play really well to put yourself in a position to win, and we certainly did that.”
It just didn’t.
Miller talked about a couple of tough calls made or not made by the referees (a quick whistle that was made when the referee thought Payton Pritchard stepped out of bounds with his save falling just a couple of feet away from the basket and in the hands of an Arizona player, and a possible foul by Pritchard on a shot by Nnaji at the end of regulation come to mind).
But this space is not the business of alibis. Oregon will be given the win and Arizona will be give the loss, it’s fourth straight against the Ducks. Arizona has not beaten Oregon in Oregon since 2015.
Still, Miller said there are about six to eight 50-50 balls and Oregon got to more of them to sway the game.
“That was the difference,” Miller said.
And the difference was razor thin or this/close. Now, as UA reaches the halfway point of the regular season will it continue to be known a team that plays well enough to win but can’t against good teams.
There’s still plenty of time to get labeled something other than that. It just has to win. And in a hurry.