Kerr Kriisa and Azuolas Tubelis hadn’t lost in McKale Center in their careers. Close calls yes, but N-E-V-E-R.
Then came Saturday afternoon’s massacre vs. Washington State where Arizona lost 74-61 in what was the biggest upset in McKale Center since WSU beat them in 2019, or was that when WSU beat them in 2010 or 2007?
It’s that extreme because, well, it’s 6-10 Washington State, a team UA had all but owned for 20-plus years in the 1980s, 1990s and much of the 2000s. Now this? Against what many think is a team that could possibly win a national title? At least it will temper all that craziness until the UA faithful find their wits about them again. Until then, they will be up in arms with what they saw: a team that looks nothing like it did earlier in the year when it was scoring a parade of points with ease.
Arizona is now 14-2 overall and 3-2 in the Pac-12 Conference. And not to be lost in all this was Arizona’s 28-game win streak in McKale.
“It feels like shit,” UA guard Kriisa said after the game.
They played like something that resembled it for 40 minutes, give or take a few minutes. Figure that Arizona had the lead for all of five minutes and 13 seconds. It’s best scoring run was seven. And its bench had four points, shooting a collective 0 for 6.
The numbers don’t lie – not in Saturday’s game, one where Arizona went in as a 12-point favorite. What should have been a walk in the park turned into a game where it looked like UA was shooting in the dark.
It hit 20 of 63 shots (31.7 percent), easily the worst game of the season.
It hit just four of 25 3-pointers.
It made just 17 of 28 free throws.
Paint by numbers of an ugly picture.
If it’s not a massacre, it sure is a mystery how all this has happened in just a matter of a game and weekend. Arizona wasn’t much better on Thursday but survived in beating Washington, 70-67.
First time is a mistake, second time is a habit.
And this habit doesn’t look or feel good. Arizona is struggling offensively, given it’s averaged just 66 points the last three games. Remember that Arizona is considered the most offensively efficient team but now is allergic to the basket.
“I wouldn’t panic, that’s like, I think everybody are in clouds right now from last year,” Kriisa said. “And that’s how it should be. Our standards are high. We’re trying to win every game. We gotta take full responsibility for shooting percentages. We missed, I don’t know how many free throws … 11 free throws at home and that’s a lot of free throws. That’s 100 percent on players.”
As Tubelis, who had the team’s best day by going 9 of 20 and 10 of 12 from the free throw line to finish with a game-high 29 points, said, “we had a bad day, we missed shots. It’s not confidence.”
Said Kriisa: “It was one of those days.”
Or was that daze?
Every game is a season. And Arizona lost Saturday’s season. Quite the opposite of winning the season of the Tennessee game. What will it all mean down the road? Clearly Arizona lost some of its luster of November and December. But again, it was a poor game on top of another poor game that they eventually found a way to win.
“We didn’t play good, that’s the bottom line and as a program we will respond and get better from it,” Tommy Lloyd said. “These seasons are long. (WSU) was able to put together a game plan that worked early for them and they got some conviction. We dug a hole and we deserved the result that we got.”
He added Arizona didn’t hustle for balls, and didn’t rebound well. They were sluggish in all “facets of the game,” he said.
“It’s usually a recipe for a long night,” Lloyd said.
His point was made. Arizona didn’t make enough of its.
The Wildcats missed many shots around the basket, with Oumar Ballo seemingly still struggling with his early-in-the-week illness. He was 4 for 11 and look out of sorts.
“He’s probably still battling (that illness) (but) he’s our guy,” Lloyd said. “He’s had an incredible season. I thought they were moments when I thought he’d get us back in the game. It was one of those days. Oumar is a special guy and I know he’ll bounce back.”
What are Lloyd’s biggest concerns not associated with Saturday’s disappointment?
“Nothing crazy,” he said. “You don’t let a day like this take your mojo. It’s hard not to. We got to do a good job. We’re a high-character program. I love these players. We just got to bounce back from it. We got to come back Monday, show up and be excited to be there and get better and work our asses off.”