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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA lets another one slip

    The story’s getting familiar for the Arizona men’s basketball team, but there’s still no happy ending.

    Playing in their final home game of the season, the Wildcats hung tough, played hard and had their chances, but came away empty in another opportunity for a signature win that would punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

    “”It was a tough game,”” said UA guard Jawann McClellan. “”I felt like we could have won. They executed down the stretch. We fought this game, (but) unfortunately we came out on the short end.””

    On one hand, the Wildcats should be applauded for playing the No. 4 Bruins so tight, a team that wiped the floor with Arizona last month in Pauley Pavilion. The home team played with passion and nearly pulled off a court-rushing worthy victory that likely would have been impressive enough to get the team out of the Nos. 8-9 seed game.

    But the selection committee won’t care that the Wildcats lost by two to UCLA, one and four to No. 8 Stanford and four at No. 6 Kansas in overtime. All four games were winnable, where a shot here or a defensive stop there would have made the difference, yet Arizona never found a way to break through.

    “”It just shows you that we’re a very capable team,”” said UA forward Chase Budinger. “”We’re able to play with anybody on any given night. We’ve just got to be more consistent about it and learn how to finish games, that’s the biggest thing for us is when it gets close toward the end of games we have to finish.””

    The Wildcats said similar things after their Nov. 17 loss to Virginia, their second game of the season, a contest they lost because they did not execute at the end of the game.

    Now 29 games into a season in which Arizona has gone 2-7 in games decided by five points or less, the Wildcats could only manage an off-balanced 3-point attempt from Bayless on their final shot of the game.

    UA center Kirk Walters, who passed up an open jumper a la Bret Brielmaier at Kansas on the final play, said he thinks the close calls show how capable the Wildcats are, making him wonder where Arizona would be if things had gone a bit differently.

    As things stand, the Wildcats are staring at a stretch of six losses in eight games after being swept at home for the first time this year while losing their seventh in a row to UCLA and third straight on Senior Day.

    That leaves Arizona in a position the program has not been used to while running off 23 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, needing victories down the stretch just to reach the tourney.

    “”Of course we know we need two wins,”” McClellan said. “”You all know that, we know that. We need two wins no matter if it comes next week or in the Pac-10 Tournament, we need two wins. That’s point-blank, we’ve just got to find a way to win, and hopefully we can do that down the stretch.””

    McClellan’s probably right. It would be tough to keep out a 19-win Arizona team that played the nation’s toughest schedule and went 3-8 in games Bayless and Nic Wise missed, in comparison to 14-4 with two of the aforementioned close calls with it.

    It would not be so tough to keep out a UA squad that goes 7-11 in conference and loses to Oregon State or goes 8-10 with a first-round league tourney ouster.

    As for the conference standings, the Wildcats can’t finish higher than fifth – and realistically sixth because that would require an ASU loss to the Beavers.

    So long as there aren’t a couple of big upsets, Arizona’s season finale at Oregon will likely double as a game for sixth in the league, a spot that would avoid the play-in game and possibly put the Wildcats in position for a game against Washington State, who they swept.

    “”We’re definitely in desperation mode,”” Budinger said. “”This is probably the biggest weekend for us next weekend. We’ve got to just play our asses off, because this could be it for us.””

    Budinger said he’s heard Wise and Brielmaier could return for the Oregon trip, a needed boost as their injuries have cost the Wildcats dearly.

    It’s hard to say if Arizona would have beaten Stanford or UCLA, or both, at full strength, but it’s something Budinger hopes the committee takes into account.

    “”I would doubt that there’s 64 teams better than us,”” said UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill, “”but I won’t make that decision, and we have to put it in the hands of people who understand basketball selections.””

    By letting another marquee win slip away, the Wildcats’ ability to control their own destiny may have gone along with it.

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