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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona’s early NIT exit a result of Pac-12 Tournament hangover

Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat

Although the Arizona men’s basketball team wasn’t selected to go dancing this year, it was given a No. 1 seed for its fourth-ever appearance in the National Invitation Tournament. But despite their top seeding in the NIT, the Wildcats ended as just a blip on the postseason radar.

Arizona, despite overwhelming support from fans who are used to hearing the Wildcats’ name called on Selection Sunday, lost in the first round of the NIT. The No. 8 seed Bucknell Bison defeated Arizona 65-54 in McKale Center on Wednesday. It was the first time since 2010 that a No. 8 seed had knocked off a No.1 seed in the NIT. If it had advanced, Arizona would have had the opportunity to host three NIT games in McKale Center, a home-court advantage the Wildcats never got to experience.

“We don’t really know the history of the NIT. We really wanted to make the tournament,” senior Jesse Perry said. “We were kind of still down. We weren’t really as riled up as we should have been. Bucknell just came out and they beat us.”

Arizona, which fell to Colorado in the championship game of the Pac-12 Tournament, was a shot away from receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Missing that chance doomed the Wildcats’ outlook on the NIT even before they were selected to it.

“That’s not to say we weren’t out there and didn’t try,” head coach Sean Miller said. “But I think it’s OK to be at Arizona and feel bad about not being in the tournament and all of us feel that way.

“That’s the challenge of this tournament — if you don’t put it right behind you, then you’re going to lose to an awfully good team, and that’s what we did.”

The Wildcats were outplayed in nearly every facet of the game. The Bucknell Bison outshot the Wildcats 41 percent to 35 percent, outrebounded Arizona 36 to 28 and even shot a higher percentage from beyond the arc — 47 percent to 30 percent.

The loss put the UA at an 0-4 record all-time in the NIT. The Wildcats hadn’t been a part of the NIT since 1951.

“The NIT should have been an opportunity that we looked forward to,” junior forward Solomon Hill said. “For me, it was a chance to play with these five guys that I won’t be on the court with again. Losing these guys is going to be an experience for all of us.”

The game marked the final appearence for seniors Perry, Kyle Fogg, Alex Jacobson, Dondre Wise and Brendon Lavender.

Miller said he was more disappointed with the results of this year than he was compared to his first year of coaching, when the Wildcats missed the postseason all together, because of the expectations placed on the program. Arizona was ranked No. 16 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll back in October.

“We have a young group coming in to join some really experienced returners,” Miller said. “We have some things that we have to address this spring, both with our returning guys and to add to that group of four. But we’re not there yet.”

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