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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona Wildcats basketball falls short in Pac-12 Conference Tournament Championship game

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Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat

LOS ANGELES — The Pac-12 Conference Tournament Championship game ended almost exactly like Arizona’s trip to Boulder on Jan. 12.

On Saturday, senior Kyle Fogg had a chance to tie the game. He put up the shot, and it fell short.

The sixth-seeded Colorado Buffaloes, in their first year as members of the Pac-12 Conference, knocked off the fourth-seeded Wildcats 53-51 on Saturday in Staples Center.

The Wildcats looked to be done with about a minute left in the game, but a short burst gave them a chance to force overtime. Arizona was down six points with 48.6 seconds left, but cut the Colorado lead to just two points. With 14.4 seconds remaining after Buffaloes senior Austin Dufault missed two free throws, the ball was inbounded and passed to Fogg, who tried to dance around the Colorado defender with help from a screen from senior Jesse Perry. Colorado’s defenders helped, and Fogg couldn’t get an open shot. He threw up a last second attempt, but it was tipped and didn’t go in.

“To have the ball in Kyle’s hands is something that’s good for our team,” head coach Sean Miller said. “The last play didn’t win or lose the game. There were so many plays throughout the course of the game that hurt us.”

For the second time in two years, the Arizona men’s basketball team fell in the championship game of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.

“Today was much different because it meant the NCAA Tournament versus no on that, and it’s a difficult loss for all of us,” Miller said.

It was widely thought that Arizona had to win the Pac-12 Conference Tournament Championship to get a bid in the NCAA Tournament. But the Wildcats outlasted Washington, California and Oregon — all bubble teams — in the Pac-12 Tournament. Selections will be announced on Sunday, and the Arizona Wildcats, with a 23-11 record, will have to wait to see if the selection committee still thinks they’re worthy.

“We knew that we had to get this victory to get into the NCAA tournament,” sophomore guard Jordin Mayes said. “It hurts right now because that was our chance, our last chance, to getting in.”

The Buffaloes built a steady lead throughout the second half after having a 30-28 lead at halftime. Colorado out rebounded the Wildcats 21-11 in the first half and got major contribution from Spencer Dinwiddie, who hit three 3-pointers in the first half alone. As the second half wore on, Colorado seemed to have much more energy, and built the lead as high as 12 points.

“We had no answer for them,” Miller said.

At the 7:15 mark, Colorado had a 10-point lead and all the momentum. But the Wildcats pressed back, going on a run that included nine straight misses from Colorado. At the 5:20 mark, Arizona had the lead down to five.

“We knew we had to fight to come back,” Mayes said. “So it was just us coming together on defense and playing hard and trying to stop something so we can push the ball on offense.”

Junior Solomon Hill had the chance to break the Buffaloes when he had a wide-open 3-point shot, but it didn’t fall. The shot was indicative of Hill’s night, which wasn’t bad from a statistical perspective, but Hill seemed to lack his usual energy and drive. He was not made available to the media after the game.

Colorado senior Carlon Brown seemed to seal the game with less than a minute to go as he slammed down a dunk. Brown’s score would prove to be the difference in the game.

The Wildcats made one final push, though. A pair of Fogg free throws and a runner by Hill gave Arizona at least the chance to tie the game at the end.

“They were definitely scared of us coming back right there,” senior Brendon Lavender said. “I knew that if we made a little run at the end, we could have a chance to win, but a couple defensive mistakes and we fell short.”

No one took the loss harder than Fogg, though, who sat in the locker room with his head in his jersey. Though Fogg’s free throws closed the gap for the Wildcats late, Arizona struggled from the charity stripe all game long, hitting only 10-of-18.

“You know, we’ve really been making free throws. Today we didn’t, and we picked the wrong time to miss,” Miller said. “Part of the identity of what you do in championship games has to be in place. Missing free throws hurt, no question about it.”

On Saturday, Arizona talked about eliminating doubt about whether it should be part of the NCAA Tournament or not with a win in the championship game. Now, all the Wildcats can do is wait for others to decide their fate.

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