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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: ASU loss may cost Arizona

Rebecca Noble

Arizona forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (23) sits in the team huddle during Arizona’s 81-78 loss to ASU at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe on Saturday. Hollis-Jefferson and the Wildcats potentially lost the chance to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament by losing to ASU.

TEMPE — More than just Arizona basketball’s pride took a beating in the shocking 81-78 defeat to ASU on Saturday.

The No. 6 Wildcats (20-3, 8-2 Pac-12 Conference) may have lost the chance to get the No. 1 seed in the West.

On Saturday, for the third time this season, Arizona men’s basketball lost to a team it should have beat handily. The loss probably won’t cost the Wildcats the Pac-12 championship, as they are tied with Utah, but it could have far-reaching consequences.

Arizona was No. 4 in the RPI and ASU was 115th heading into Saturday’s game. The Wildcats’ RPI dropped to sixth, and ASU’s rose to 96th on Sunday, but the Sun Devils (12-11, 4-6) are unlikely to rise any further.

ASU figures to go 3-5, at best, to close out the regular season. Its upset of UA was more of a fluke. ASU head coach Herb Sendek is 9-10 against the UA and 5-9 against his former “Padawan,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller.

Sendek can get the Sun Devils up to play their archrivals, but like the Phoenix weather, ASU’s RPI will be back in the triple digits soon.

The sting from the ASU loss is that the Wildcats now have three bad losses: ASU, Oregon State (RPI No. 78) and UNLV (RPI No. 99). The loss also hurts their “last 12 games” data. Now, even if the Wildcats win all their remaining games, they can still only finish the season 11-1 in their last 12 games.

Arizona still has a pretty solid record and good resume; like the high RPI, 25th rated strength of schedule, 3-0 record vs. the RPI top 25, 4-0 record vs. the RPI top 50 and 10-3 mark against the RPI top 100. The loss, however, drops its road record to 4-3 and bad losses as the thing holding them back.

The Wildcats probably need to win out to get a chance to take the No. 1 seed in the West.

RPI No. 8 Gonzaga is the consensus No. 1 seed in the West, according to current projections. Their toughest remaining game is RPI No. 62 Saint Mary’s. The Zags have won or shared 14 of the last 15 West Coast Conference regular season championships. The Bulldogs own the WCC; they’re not losing any time soon.

Arizona’s hope to overcome Gonzaga and get the top seed in the West, which would mean playing the regionals in friendly Los Angeles, Calif., rather than a place like Houston, Texas, may be gone.

The Wildcats seem destined to be a two seed (at best), which could mean being shipped out to a place like Cleveland, Ohio, or Syracuse, N.Y., for the regionals — if they get there.

Except for a few blowouts, Arizona tends to play to the level of their competition. Constantly overlooking opponents, the Wildcats do not look like a team that has three juniors and a senior in the top six of its rotation.

The Wildcats will probably regroup like they did after their first two losses, where they beat ASU 73-49 after their luck ran out in Las Vegas, Nev., and then won six in a row after they were embarrassed by Oregon State. The damage, however, was already done in Tempe.

The formula is simple: Don’t lose to bad teams like ASU.


Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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