Arizona had it, then didn’t. Had it, and then didn’t. Had it, then didn’t.
And then, well, like a made-for-TV drama it was over. Just like that.
Sudden death with a weird and strange ending.
If you didn’t have a Cat in this fight, you would have loved Arizona vs. Oregon. As Arizona coach Sean Miller said on Thursday, it had all the makings of a March Madness game.
One problem for Arizona: it suffered from the madness, losing 73-72 in overtime to the Ducks on a night it could have been atop the Pac-12 Conference with a win. Instead, it’s with almost everyone else, except Arizona State (more later).
Wait, Arizona State? Yes, ASU is now the league leader. Welcome to the 2019-2020 college basketball season, where strange things happen on the daily.
Saturday night, in McKale Center, there was everything. A star senior in Payton Prichard put on a show (with 38 points) and yet he was silent when it all mattered in the end. And, at the end of the night seemingly every player who played for Arizona had a very good game … until the end when free throws mattered.
Arizona went 10 for 21 from the line with Miller saying, “it’s very difficult to beat a team as good as Oregon with this much at stake and go 10 for 21 from the line.”
Josh Green missed two with seconds left in regulation that would have sealed it. Nico Mannion missed two of three in regulation with Arizona up four points. And, well, Christian Koloko missed two to end the game in overtime.
Arizona seemingly had done everything right … until it didn’t or couldn’t.
“You have to deliver,” Miller said. “This is a big stage at Arizona, and these are the games we’ve all signed up for. We’re in March Madness and we’re playing for everything right now.”
Arizona is now – yikes! – behind Colorado, Oregon and UCLA and one game up on USC, the team it faces Thursday.
All. Are. Critical … from here on out.
Just as every possession seemed to be on Saturday night. Yet, Arizona couldn’t secure the ball on rebounds and couldn’t hit free throws.
“You have to be able to get rebounds,” Miller said in an obvious upset tone. “When they are in your hands, you can’t get nervous and the ball goes out. You have to squeeze it. When you go to the foul line you have to knock them in.”
Miller pointed out that if you don’t hit free throws – something he said he wasn’t concerned about a few weeks back because his team shot 70 percent but still missed key free throws – your team is as vulnerable to win as the more than 200 other college basketball teams. “If we made our free throws and took away a couple of key second shots including the game-winning second shot then we would have had a victory that wouldn’t have gone into overtime,” he said.
But, little things – that turn into big things – matter.
After Oregon took the lead with 1 second left, Arizona seemingly had no hope. None. Then, after some confusion on who could be in and who couldn’t, Jemarl threw a perfect pass to a waiting Koloko, who caught the ball and quickly put up a shot. And – what? – was fouled on his last-second attempt.
“It’s tough on Christian because that’s not his role right now,” Miller said. “Because he was in on defense and no clock ran, we weren’t able to sub. Had we been able to sub we would have had Zeke (Nnaji) in on that role.
“But in that role, there you want a chance to win and we certainly had one. This loss doesn’t fall on Christian.”
Miller went on to talk about toughness and effort “and I wish we were better in that area and that’s why we have the number of losses that we do.”
That would be eight against 19 wins.
Yet, Arizona was this/close from winning No. 20. And taking control of the Pac-12 Conference race.
Has Sean Miller been in a crazier game than Saturday night’s? It had everything.
“Many,” he said, deadpan yet making a few people laugh, “We’ve been in six games, eight games like this this year. But we have to win them. It’s my job to win them. Losing, who cares? All we did was put on a good show for the crowd.
“We played with great effort but the objective at the end is to have more points. That’s the way it works.”
A couple of minutes later, Miller left the media in a rush, crunching up the stats. After all, they meant nothing.