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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Moral victory with a cost

It went basket for basket, foul for foul — basically an eye for an eye until both went blind in double overtime.

In a heavyweight boxing match better fit for the glamorous Las Vegas lights and ensuing ESPN Classic spot, the Wildcats fell by TKO, 74-72 after 50 minutes on a stage where a basketball game broke out.

“”We’ll pick ourselves off the mat and move forward,”” UA head coach Sean Miller said.

The hard drives, blind screens — it came down to 5.8 seconds remaining in double overtime. Down by two points, Nic Wise couldn’t get the final shot off.

Ask UA quarterback Nick Foles about that pain. He was in attendance last night, just two weeks removed from his own double overtime heart-breaker to a ranked opponent.

Somehow this time, water bottles stayed in the stands. Fans actually respected this one for the effort and new positives — not the bitter final result.

The youthful endurance from freshman soon-to-be-stud Derrick Williams (28 points) is one of the bright spots Arizona will highlight and possibly take as a moral victory.

In the end, Rebel Derrick Jasper’s 3-pointer broke through a game that had 21 lead changes.

“”We were starting to get a little fatigued towards the end but we all just looked in each other’s eyes and said ‘Let’s get going,'”” said standout UNLV guard Tre’Von Willis.

Out-toughed, out-muscled and out-lasted in a Vegas vendetta, the Wildcats fell on their chance to establish a solid backup body of work stable enough to survive a tournament bubble.

Now, they could be all-in to beat up the Pac-10.

Or else.

The Wildcats’ (3-3) double overtime loss was one of the last chances at securing a résumé-building nonconference win this season — the same work model that propelled them into these last two tournaments.

In 2007, thank a 20-point comeback win against then-No. 9 Texas A&M.

In 2008, thank a season-turning win against then-No. 4 Gonzaga in Phoenix.

This year, it was the No. 24 Rebels that posed as the only opponent sexy enough.

And UA lost.

Now they gamble on the Pac-10 to provide enough stiff competition that’s enough for the NCAA Selection Committee.

Not even the name-brand BCS schools remaining on Arizona’s schedule — Oklahoma and N.C. State — could carry Arizona’s potential bubble burden alone.

Something tells me “”Louisiana Tech”” won’t flash across ESPN’s “”key wins”” graphic in March.

“”No, I really think our schedule is loaded with good opponents,”” Miller countered, just as any coach would.

Then again with the Pac-10 in shambles, maybe it’s a better avenue to just win the conference this season and not worry about building a résumé.

Scary, but not out of the question the way Arizona has consistently improved defensively. And the way the rest of the conference has fared thus far: the second-best team, California, lost to New Mexico last night.

“”We showed a lot of people that we can play with the best of them,”” freshman guard Momo Jones said. “”Top 25, we’re just a team nobody expects to do anything really. We think and we know we can play with anyone in the country.

“”Coming in here tonight, even though we lost, I think our team and our coaching staff feels great about the direction we’re headed.””

Not that any of these ideas would ever cross Miller’s mind — especially in his future-oriented, hey-we’re-young-this-year approach.

Heck, Miller would probably rather talk about the 2011 tournament than this season’s.

“”I don’t know if 10 days ago we could’ve defended UNLV,”” Miller said on his team’s growing-before-your-eyes evolution on defense. “”It’s very early in December. We’re going to be in many, many more games like this.””

— Bryan Roy can be reached at

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