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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: It just wasn’t Arizona’s day

Rebecca Noble

Arizona forward Stanley Johnson (5) tends to his eye after taking a punch while Arizona forward Brandon Ashley (21), left, and guards Kadeem Allen, center right, and Parker Jackson-Cartwright (0), far right, dejectedly look on from the bench during Arizona’s 85-78 loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif. on Saturday night.

LOS ANGELES — Sometimes you have to just take the “L.”

Going into their Elite Eight rematch with top seeded Wisconsin, almost everything was going in the Wildcats’ (34-4) favor, but once the game started, it all went wrong.

Arizona gave up a season-high 85 points to the Badgers, who shocked Arizona for the second year in a row. Once again, a UW forward had a career night to knockout the Wildcats ― this time it was Sam Dekker, who had 27 points, the most in his time in college.

“It was tough, you know, to be playing hard on defense and trying to get a stop to win the game, and he made those shots,” Arizona forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said. “It was tough to watch them go in, but in basketball, you have those days.”

The Wildcats played mediocre defense to start the second half, as they quickly surrendered their three-point halftime lead, but even after they tightened up, Wisconsin kept hitting shots, even prayers.

With 1:51 left, Dekker threw up a shot that had no business going in and yet it still went in. UA had cut the Badger lead to five and elected not to foul, instead letting Wisconsin run the clock down and deliver the dagger.

“God was on their side, that’s all I can say about that,” Hollis-Jefferson said.

Dekker scored 20 points in the second half and made all five of this 3-pointers.

“You’ve just got to credit Sam,” Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell said. “He made big-time plays when they needed him to. And we contested most of them as well as you can, but he made some big-time shots.”

The Badgers shot 79 percent in the second half against the 3rd-best team in the country in defensive efficiency.

“Their offensive execution and their ability to make shots in the second half ― it was like a video game,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “I’d like to blame our players or we weren’t playing hard. Let me just tell you: Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, they’re really good. And their offense is the No. 1 offense in the nation, and no team has done what they did to us in the second half.”

UW forward Frank Kaminsky, who torched the UA last year, had a pretty average first half. Sure, he had 13 points, but was 5-for-13 from the field.

Arizona was stopping him, he was just scoring because he was taking so many shots — in Kobe Bryant’s home arena.

However, like Dekker, Kaminsky went off in the second half. He scored 16 points, on 4-for-7 shooting. Suddenly Wisconsin had two superstars to stop.

McConnell and Miller both wondered aloud if even mighty Kentucky can stop Wisconsin when the Badgers’ vanilla assassins are playing like that.

Miller said they tried everything, but still couldn’t stop Wisconsin.

“Rondae did a really good job in the first half when he was on Kaminsky, but he’s not going to be able to just pitch a shutout,” Miller said. “The problem was he can’t guard two people. When Sam Dekker does what he did, and I think some of the shots were very well defended, when he does that with Kaminsky, maybe Kentucky is that school that can beat them. But I’m telling you, I don’t know if there is another one out there when they’re clicking with that one-two punch.”

Kentucky will probably take down the Badgers, but on this day, it seemed like no one could stop Wisconsin.

The loss is so devastating because they got that second shot at Wisconsin in Pac-12 country, only with a better team. How often do you get a second chance at a team in the NCAA Tournament?

Two Elite Eights is great, but the defeat feels much worse because it could be a while before the Wildcats recover. Arizona will probably lose all five starters, four of them leaving early for the pros.

Arizona’s two big differences this time against Wisconsin were negated, forward Brandon Ashley got into foul trouble quickly and forward Stanley Johnson wasn’t the same after he got poked in the eye.

“I can’t afford to get in foul trouble,” Ashley said. “I take full responsibility for that.”

Ashley is certainly not to blame for the loss, he had 17 points, but his skills could surely have helped slow down the Badgers.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s career likely ended with only six points and by fouling out in a blur. The Southern California native should have been a difference maker.

Everything went against Arizona, but it’s a season they should be proud of.

“I’m not going to apologize for being 34-4, and I’m not going to apologize for not making the Final Four, and neither should these guys,” Miller said. “There are a couple of them, and I’ll just use these two as an example, that have won 69 games in two years, have won back-to-back conference championships, have been in the top-10 for every day that they’ve dribbled a ball at Arizona, and we lost to Wisconsin in two hard-fought battles in the Elite Eight.”


Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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