Arizona Basketball

Princeton solved all Arizona’s problems, now Cats sent home in first-round upset

For a team that had no room for error, it found plenty on Thursday afternoon. At the worst time, no less.

Arizona fans know the feeling, they’ve lived it for more than 30 years. But first the score then the obituary.

Arizona fell to Princeton 59-55 here as a No. 2 seed.

It was the third straight year and 11th time overall that a No. 15 seed won a first-round game.

Arizona now as two of them.

Azuolas Tubelis looks to get two of his 22 points. (Photo courtesy Arizona athletics)

For those who remember – or have long chosen to forget – Arizona fell to Santa Clara 30 years (come Saturday) as a No. 2 seed.

East Tennessee State in 1992.

Oklahoma in 1999.

Again, Arizona knows the drill. It was five years ago to the day, Arizona fell to Buffalo in a whipping.

And, um, 28 years ago to the day (March 16) Arizona fell to Miami, Ohio.

All came under Lute’s watch.

Sean Miller suffered a first-round loss to Wichita seven years ago (tomorrow).

Oh, the (bad) memories.

“It’s disappointing,” Kerr said. “To everybody. Our fans, our staff, our city. You don’t want to go out in the first round. Sadly, that’s what happened.”

Thursday’s will go down as another. This time to Princeton, the team that looked more like Arizona than Arizona did … at least it could score. And Arizona, the team that averaged more than 80 points per game, couldn’t throughout the game. Inside, outside … Arizona had nothing.

And Princeton, of course, had all the answers. You think Princeton isn’t good with numbers?

It had one fewer turnover 12-11.

It had more points in the paint: 42-34. What?

It had more second-chance points: 11-2.

It had more points from its bench: 16-7.

It had more rebounds: 38-37.

Princeton went 4 for 25 from beyond the 3-point line. (And still won).

And, it shot just five three throws, all in the final minute of the game. (And it still won)

Arizona just couldn’t figure Princeton out. Even when it had a 12-point lead, did you really feel comfortable?

“We thought we could get away with it easy,” Pelle Larsson said in the postgame locker room.

No truer words have been said for all those first-round NCAA losses. Arizona has long overlooked teams when it thinks it doesn’t have to come to play.

“Interesting,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd said, when told a couple of his players said his team had no energy. “That wasn’t the message. … Maybe some of the guys just were a little bit nervous. I don’t know. Or they expected the game to be easier that what it was. That definitely wasn’t the message from the staff.

“I know this: nothing great in life is achieved without energy or enthusiasm.”

It also cannot be faked. Here are Arizona’s losses this season: Utah, ASU, Oregon, Washington State and UCLA. Only UCLA is perceived to be better.

So, how many learning lessons do you need to actually learn?

Well, class was once again in session. Princeton advanced. Arizona has been sent home.

“They outhustled us, they played better than us,” said Kerr Kriisa. “They played good defense. Gotta give a lot of credit to Princeton.”

The only one who proved to be effective was Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis, who finished with 22 points, but had to take 20 shots to get them. Had it not been for him, Arizona would have never had a chance.

Princeton solved Arizona’s puzzle. It stifled Arizona’s guards. Courtney Ramey went 4 for 10, finishing with 8 points. Kriisa went 1 for 7, finishing with three points and four turnovers.

“They played good defense,” Kerr said.

He said that a number of times.

“They took our flow away,” Kerr said.

They also took their hearts. Princeton clearly frustrated Arizona. Wasn’t it just a week ago when UA – and observers – was saying that UA benefitted from playing a team that played at a slower pace. Arizona had just beat UCLA in a rough-and-tough style.

Five days later, Arizona couldn’t get by Princeton … when it REALLY mattered.

“There’s going to be some bad with a lot of good,” Lloyd said to begin his postgame press conference. “I’m built for it.”

Arizona fans have lived it. They’ve built callouses from it. Now, this.

“We ran into a good team today that made the right plays at the right time,” Lloyd continued. “We weren’t able to separate from them enough when we had the opportunities. That’s what happens when you’re able to stick around a basketball game.”

It was a problem all year. Even when Arizona won some games, opponents rallied to make it respectable. Not always but it became a concern. As it turns out, there was a reason for the concern. Get a good team and they’ll take advantage. Princeton did.

“They’re a hard team to play against,” Lloyd said. “I knew it was going to be a tough game. That program has a ton of pride. They’re well-coached, have great fundamentals. That showed today.”

And Arizona showed, well, not enough.

And figure this: Princeton didn’t play all that well. It shot 40 percent for the game, but Arizona shot just 42 percent. And only Oumar Ballo helped on the offensive end. He finished with 13 points.

Arizona failed to score in the final 4:43 minutes, having three turnovers in that time. Arizona couldn’t do anything.

“I didn’t think our end-of-the-game execution, our poise was what it has been in close games,” Lloyd said. “That’s a little disappointing.”

Lloyd said he – and his team – will learn from this. Does it have any other choice?

First up, might be getting a big lead and keeping it.

“Putting the hammer on people,” he said, “not letting people back in the game.

“Traditionally, we’ve been built to do that. Recently, we’ve kind of struggled in that area a little bit and kind of let people back in. If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned. Obviously, we did today.”

Burned, indeed.

Still, while on the podium, Lloyd remained his usual calm composure. It struck one Sacramento columnist so he asked how he could remain so calm?

“I know how hard it is,” Lloyd said, of the tournament. “If you want to do great things in life, you got to be willing to step in some dog shit once in a while. That’s just how it is. We did that today. A lot of it was self-inflicted, but a lot of it was from a great opponent who has a lot of pride.”

In retrospect, Lloyd said, UA had a “great season.”

“We’re still trying to build and develop the program,” he said. “I’m still trying to develop as a coach … I think we performed well on lots of big stages. Just unfortunately you’re going to be judged sometimes how you play in this tournament. That’s the good and bad of it.”

Thursday, it was the bad of it.

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