And so, it all ends: the magic, the mayhem and the merrymaking.
Arizona’s road to the Final Four ended Thursday night after Houston defeated the Wildcats 72-60 in San Antonio.
Remember the Alamo?
More like forget the Alamo as Houston made Arizona play un-Arizona like. The tempo didn’t fit.
The shooting didn’t fit. There went enough assists and, once again there were too many turnovers.
Houston’s rugged and physical play were the perfect tonics for Arizona’s style of run and stun. Instead, Houston did the stunning, scoring 24 points off turnovers and limiting UA to a miserable percentage from the floor.
And, Arizona’s stars didn’t come out.
Bennedict Mathuring had 15 points, but was just 4 for 14 from the floor. He had 30 points on Sunday. Christian Koloko went 2 for 6 and was a non-factor. He had 28 on Sunday. Azuolas Tubelis struggled yet again, failing to hit a basket in eight attempts.
For 30 plus games, Arizona’s stars shined … then came Thursday night.
And the ol’ dependable rally never materialized, dashing hopes late into the second half when it was very apparent Arizona had run out of its magic dust.
Arizona’s claim-to-fame offensive efficiency was no match for Houston’s aggressiveness.
Heck, even steel swinging doors are no match for doorstops.
“Houston is one of those teams where you’re better served off if you play them a couple times,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “I think the first time you play them, they do the things they’re good at … at such a high level, that it’s hard for you to get comfortable the first time around, and maybe the second time you play them, you can try to tell your guys what’s coming, (so) they actually have a lot better feel for it actually having experienced it.”
There will be no second chances, although – maybe in reality – it was a second chance at being better against a more physical team. After all, didn’t last Sunday’s Texas Christian game give Arizona a chance to prepare for what was coming on Thursday?
Arizona wasn’t ready. Azuolas Tubelis wasn’t ready. Bennedict Mathurin wasn’t ready. Arizona’s bigs – Christian Koloko and Uomar Ballo – weren’t ready.
And Houston was.
“I watched Arizona play,” Kelvin Sampson said. “I watched them play UCLA. I watched them play Colorado. I watched the way those teams guarded them, and I knew we weren’t going to guard them like those teams did. Those teams just switched them. They let them be comfortable. I knew we were going to make them uncomfortable. That’s what we do.”
And Arizona couldn’t get comfortable, falling behind early and never really recovering. Arizona couldn’t handle it – just like they couldn’t handle UCLA in the first game and Colorado in the second game.
“I knew their size would be a factor, but I didn’t think their size was — if we did what our game plan called for, I didn’t think the size was going to make us lose,” Sampson said. “Our team, we’re a tough bunch. We’ve gotten a lot better as the season goes on.”
So, they move on … and Arizona returns home. Done at 33-4, a remarkable season of fun and bright futures. No one thought the record would happen? Hell, I’d bet Lloyd didn’t either in as much as he’d often say, “I didn’t expect that” after many games.
But, Arizona delivered heavy doses of fun sometimes frantic basketball. Who didn’t fall in love with Tommy Lloyd and the Fun Bunch? It brought back a renewed love for Arizona basketball, something that had been missing for more than five years, maybe more.
The team had been picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 then won it going away. It won the Pac-12 tournament going away.
It was a season that saw Bennedict Mathurin become an All-American and a potential lottery pick (he wasn’t clear on his future but it’s all but a forgone conclusion he’ll leave for a chance at the NBA soon). It allowed for the others to play the game they love so much more freely and with a passion for team success.
What a season from the most unassuming team and first-year coach. Then, all the winning came only to make people aware that there WAS talent and the rookie head coach could, well, coach. Then, all of a sudden Arizona found itself 33-3 entering Thursday’s game.
“Overall, it was great,” Lloyd said of the season. “I thanked these guys after the game. They’re an amazing group of guys. I’ll always be thankful for them. I think they helped me get Arizona basketball off to a good start in my tenure, and I’ll always be thankful for them.
“I think we really built some foundational pieces this year that are really going to serve us well moving forward. Extremely proud of the guys. Extremely proud of the coaching staff. We ran into a really good team tonight that was just a little bit too much for us.”
Again, there will be no second chances. And dreams, of course, do have endings.
“We knew we could have done better,” Koloko said. “That’s why our team is sad right now. We knew we could have done better. We knew how good of a team we (were), but right now we can’t do anything. So, we’ve just got to learn from it.”
And perhaps be back on the same stage next season … maybe even deeper into it. Magic not necessary.