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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona takes the night off

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Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat

There are two ways teams react to losing a conference tournament championship game and missing the NCAA Tournament.

Some teams immediately develop a chip on their shoulder. They feel cheated. They’re out to prove they deserved to be in the field of 68 with a chance to compete in the spectacle that is March Madness.

Those teams enter the NIT with a sense of motivation and pride. They yearn to continue their basketball journey and make it to Madison Square Garden with a chance to end the season on a positive note.

Then there are teams on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

Like a kid on his birthday who didn’t get the present he wanted, they sulk. These teams say they don’t do the NIT. It’s NCAA Tournament or bust, and any other postseason tournament isn’t worth their time.

Guess which team Arizona was on Wednesday night?

It doesn’t take Albert Einstein to see who wanted to be in McKale Center on Wednesday night.

Bucknell played with energy and focus as the Bison were determined to knock off the Wildcats and keep their season afloat. Despite missing the NCAA Tournament after losing the Patriot League championship game to Lehigh, the regular season conference champions came to play.

“I know for us we had to look at it as a blessing to play in the postseason,” said Bucknell center Mike Muscala. “We said if we win games here that’s still going to be a great way to show how well we did in the regular season.”

It’s no wonder Bucknell walked away with the victory. It was clear before the game even tipped off that the Wildcats didn’t want to be in McKale Center. Even in front of a surprisingly electric crowd, they wanted no part of the NIT.

Unlike Muscala, Jesse Perry more or less admitted exactly that.

“We don’t really know the history of the NIT. A lot of guys didn’t really want to play in it,” said the senior after he’d played his final game in McKale Center. “Even coming into this game, we weren’t really as riled up as we should have been.”

Arizona played with absolutely zero desire on Wednesday. After all that the Wildcats had been through over the last six months, still not one ounce of pride.

They settled for jump shots. They gave up wide open looks. Some players didn’t even look to be aggressive — Kyle Fogg didn’t attempt a shot until 5:23 remained in the first half.

Entering Wednesday’s game, Perry, Fogg, Brendon Lavender and even Dondre Wise and Alex Jacobson knew they may never play with this group again. They would never step foot on the McKale Center floor in a competitive basketball setting again.

That should be enough to light a fire under Arizona, right?

Wrong.

Arizona’s season was on the brink, careers were coming to an end and basketball would take a backseat for the next six months, but none of that mattered.

Call it a great game by a hungry Bucknell team. Call it a letdown spot after an emotional weekend in L.A.

I call it a bad excuse.

After the game Arizona talked about being out of gas after the Pac-12 Tournament. They talked about the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament at a school where that’s borderline unacceptable.

“I don’t know if we entered today’s game as a group completely over that,” head coach Sean Miller said of missing the NCAA Tournament.

What’s even more unacceptable than missing the Big Dance is coupling that disappointment with an effortless performance in front of a crowd that could have been in Cabo, Las Vegas or Mission Beach enjoying the margaritas, casinos or attractive students in minimal clothing.

Arizona laid an egg, chalked it up to a season full of obstacles and continued to host a pity party like the kid who got a Nintendo Wii for his birthday when he really wanted a PS3.

On Wednesday night the Wildcats were no better than that whiney birthday boy. Their season is now over. They’ve missed the NCAA Tournament two of the last three years and were just bounced by in the first round of the NIT by a team with nowhere near as much talent.

Sure, the future is as bright as ever. Yes, jerseys with the names Ashley, York, Jerrett and Tarczewski will save the day next season and beyond. Of course it’s the NIT, which may get worse TV ratings than Basketball Wives.

But that’s not the point. Arizona had a chance to find some positivity in a roller-coaster ride of a season. They had an opportunity to send their seniors off on high note.

Instead there they were, still licking the wounds as the 2011-12 season came to a screeching halt, still sulking over that botched birthday gift.

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

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