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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Arizona basketball season still success despite Elite Eight loss

Column%3A+Arizona+basketball+season+still+success+despite+Elite+Eight+loss
Rebecca Noble

LOS ANGELES — They say one is the loneliest number, but eight is surely the most depressing when it comes to college basketball.

For the second straight season, Arizona suffered the heartbreak of losing in the Elite Eight and coming up one game short of the Final Four. It’s like reaching Mount Doom and losing the One Ring before you can toss it in the fire.

On Saturday, No. 2 seed Arizona lost 85-78 to No. 1 seed Wisconsin in the West region’s Elite Eight matchup. The Wildcats have not made it to the Final Four since 2001.

“I didn’t come here to play for second place, third place — I came here to play for the championship,” Arizona forward Stanley Johnson said. “We lost the game and didn’t get to the championship or the Final Four.”

Arizona (34-4) lost to the Badgers (35-3) in the Elite Eight for the second straight season. The Wildcats led at the half but were outscored 55-45 in the second half as Wisconsin made 10 3-pointers in the final 20 minutes.

“I felt like last year, we just left money on the table,” Arizona guard Gabe York said.

However, while Arizona came up short of UA coach Sean Miller’s first Final Four, the Wildcats still had a great season.

“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.”

The fact is, Arizona has won 38 games in a row at home, 14 in a row until the Elite Eight, the EA Sports Maui Invitational, both Pac-12 Conference championships, got a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and made it down to the last eight teams.

Probably 99 percent of the schools in the country would kill for a season like that.

“It’s definitely hard to win 30 plus games in college,” Arizona forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said. “For us to do that back-to-back times and come to back-to-back Elite Eights, I’m definitely proud.”

Yes, Arizona is in the 1 percent, and some UA fans are calling for the 2014 Pac-12 Coach of the Year’s head, but they ran into a buzz saw in Wisconsin, again.

If Arizona was in the terrible East region, whose top two seeds went down the first week and No. 3 seed lost in the Sweet Sixteen, they could have easily made the Final Four. No. 7 seed Michigan State won that region. The Spartans lost at home to Texas Southern, which UA beat 93-72 in the Round of 64.

After the Elite Eight, Johnson apologized to UA fans.

“We’re going to be back one day and be in the Elite Eight very soon once again,” Johnson said. “Very, very soon.”

While all five Wildcat starters, including Johnson, could be leaving — four for the pros — Johnson’s prediction isn’t that bold.

According to ESPN, Arizona has the second best 2015 recruiting class, and this year’s freshman class was sixth. The Wildcats were so stacked this year, 2014 Junior College Player of the Year Kadeem Allen redshirted.

York added that Miller told the team to keep their heads up after the game.

“He just said, ‘Hold your heads up high and understand that we will be back again,’” York said, “‘and the next time, we will push through.’”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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