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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona’s signature toughness missing against Colorado

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Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat

LOS ANGELES – Arizona trailed 51-47 with 1:01 remaining.

Four points stood between the Wildcats and the NCAA Tournament, and the hourglass was running out as Colorado inbounded the ball to senior Carlon Brown.

Brown dribbled into the frontcourt, expecting to run down the shot clock and leave Arizona with less than 30 seconds to work with.

But just as Brown got to the top of the key, UA point guard Jordin Mayes swung open his hips and gave Brown a wide-open lane to the hoop. Brown drove to his right with two hard dribbles before leaping off of his left foot.

Surely someone would be there in help position, right? Arizona had too much on the line to let Brown waltz scott free down the lane for an easy two, right?

The Wildcats clearly understood a missed free throw could be the difference between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT, so they wouldn’t allow Colorado to push their lead to six that easily would they?

As Brown took flight, there was no one to meet him at the rim.

The one player in somewhat good position to make a play on Brown – Solomon Hill, who also was nowhere to be seen at the postgame press conference or in the locker room – stood and watched.

He didn’t have a bag of popcorn and a 32-ounce Bud Light in his hand, but Hill was a spectator.
Rather than sending Brown to the floor and making him earn his two points at the line, Hill – and the rest of the Wildcats for that matter – conceded defeat.

Just like he did the night before against Oregon with a transition windmill that landed the knockout punch, Brown dropped the hammer.

The senior gave Arizona the ultimate sendoff as he slammed the ball through the hoop with every ounce of force that this 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame could produce.

“That shouldn’t have happened. There’s no excuse for that especially at that point of the game,” said UA senior guard Brendon Lavender of Brown’s dunk. “We were on the uphill coming back and for him to get that wide open dunk, it wasn’t just one person’s fault, it was all of our faults. Those are the mistakes that we cannot make and at that time we did.”

UA head coach Sean Miller immediately called a timeout after the dunk. He chewed out every one of his players and finished blowing off steam by spiking his clipboard into the ground.

Miller’s rage was more than warranted. How could a team with so much to play for possibly lay down that easily? Arizona was built around toughness, energy and a will to win, so how could that disappear with so much to lose?

Only Arizona’s players and coaches know that answer, but the fact of the matter is, what allowed UA to even make it to Saturday’s game was MIA against CU.

It was clear which team wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona came out flat, while Colorado had its eyes on that automatic bid and took a 10-5 early lead. What was the problem?

“Energy,” Jesse Perry said. “We didn’t come out right off the bat and play as a team.”

Arizona fought back to be down only two at the half but CU came out ready to play in the second half and eventually built a 50-38 lead.

Colorado beat UA to almost every loose ball. The Buffs dominated the Wildcats on the boards. Arizona’s toughness was missing.

“They got uncharacteristic easy shots, and I really felt like it was the will of our team,” Miller said.

Arizona’s will to win is what allowed it to overcome the loss of Derrick Williams, Momo Jones and eventually Kevin Parrom. Its will to win was the reason the Wildcats are even an NCAA Tournament bubble team with a 6-foot-7 starting center and a freshman point guard that can’t avoid the suspension bug.

But that all-important attribute that characterizes most Miller teams disappeared in crunch time. For the second straight season Arizona sat in the Staples Center locker room sulking in disappointment.

While last year ended in a surprise Elite Eight run, this season won’t. The NIT is the likely destination and Arizona players will always wonder what could have happened if that will to win hadn’t vanished with the season on the line.

Maybe next time a player like Brown drives the lane to rise up and put a must-win game on ice, Arizona will find a way to send him to floor.

_— Mike Schmitz is a marketing major. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatHoops. _

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