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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona suffers first defeat of season against UNLV in nonconference finale

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James Kelley

Fans storm the court at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas after the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels upset the No. 3 Arizona Wildcats 71-67 on Tuesday. The loss ends Arizona’s 39-game regular season non-conference win streak that was the longest mark in the nation. 

LAS VEGAS — Over the course of Tuesday night’s action, the No. 3 Arizona men’s basketball team went through an emotional roller coaster that culminated in a 71-67 loss to the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels for the first loss of the season.

The loss not only ends the Wildcats’ (12-1) perfect season, it also ends a 39-game regular season, nonconference winning streak that was the longest mark in the nation.

After the game, Arizona head coach Sean Miller said he’s glad the streak is over and that this is exactly what the team needed to go through.

“When you get that sick feeling when they storm the court — how it feels when the horn goes off — there’s nothing that simulates why you want to win more than that feeling,” Miller said.

Despite struggling for most of the game, Arizona had at least three opportunities in the last minute or so of the game to erase all of its mistakes. Playing in the second true road game of his collegiate career, UA forward Stanley Johnson had a fast break chance to put the Wildcats up a point with less than a minute left. After avoiding a potential charge, Johnson’s layup rimmed out and put the Wildcats in a precarious position.

Shortly after, down one point, UA forward Brandon Ashley had a great look from deep at the top of the key — only to see his shot seemingly hit every part of the rim before rimming out. The Wildcats were forced to foul, and UNLV headed to the line looking to increase its lead to three points.

After UNLV made its first, its second free throw bounced out. Johnson grabbed the board, perfectly executed a behind-the-back move to shake the defense and dribbled the ball off his foot with two seconds left, effectively ending Arizona’s chances.

“Sometimes you’re in the heat of the moment, really into the game,” Ashley said. “Shit happens.”

Throughout most of the game, and the second half in particular, Arizona struggled mightily to put together a consistent stretch of offense. After converting on 14-29 shots for a 48.3 field goal percentage in the first half, the Wildcats were 9-25 in the second half as the field goal percentage dropped to 36.0 percent.

The lone Wildcat who seemed to be in an offensive groove was the traditionally pass-first point guard T.J. McConnell, who shot 6-10 from the field for 14 points, added seven assists and had four rebounds. McConnell said the team lacked the “killer instinct” to take over late against the Runnin’ Rebels on Tuesday night.

“We didn’t have that killer instinct that we’ve had for these nonconference games that we’ve won,” McConnell said. “When you don’t have it on offense and you don’t have it on defense, you’re not going to win.”

The UNLV defense tightened up and kept Arizona off the boards — racking up a 46-33 advantage in the rebounding battle. UNLV forward Christian Wood led the way with team highs in points (24) and rebounds (10). Aiding Wood were guards Rashad Vaughn with 21 points and Patrick McCaw with 13 points.

“A couple of their individual players were great,” Miller said. “Christian Wood and Rashad Vaughn were outstanding, and they need to be commended.”

Despite recording 13 points, a team-high 13 rebounds, three assists and three steals, Johnson ended with seven turnovers — many of which could be classified as freshman mistakes. After the game, Miller said any time a single player registers that many turnovers, the team is going to feel the repercussions.

As a team, Arizona finished with 15 turnovers, and UNLV scored 18 points off those errors.

Looking forward, the Wildcats are off until Jan. 4 when the ASU Sun Devils kick off Pac-12 Conference play in McKale Center. Unlike many teams, Arizona scheduled its final nonconference game before the Christmas break instead of after. That gives the team considerable practice time to work on some of the areas that plagued the UA in its loss, such as defense and rebounding.

“With the amount of time we have off now before our conference begins, there’s going to be some really, really hard days in McKale Center for the next 10-12 days,” Miller said. “We’re going to find out who wants to play hard, who wants to play defense and who doesn’t.”

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