Colorado upends Arizona's NCAA tournament hopes

March 10, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Colorado Buffaloes guard Spencer Dinwiddie (25) shoots a basket against the Arizona Wildcats during the championship game of the 2012 Pac 12 Tournament in the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

LOS ANGELES -- Opportunity is something that defined the Arizona Wildcats' postseason run.

In the Pac-12 Tournament as a whole, they had opportunity laid out for them. The top three seeds all failed to make the conference championship and Arizona only needed to beat UCLA, Oregon State and Colorado to give themselves an auto-bid to the Big Dance.

And in a 53-51 loss to the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday, opportunities presented themselves in multiple ways. Arizona just couldn't take advantage of them.

There's the 10-of-18 free throw shooting for the Wildcats. There's the Buffaloes scoring three points in the final nine minutes of the game, a12-point lead nearly evaporating. And then there was the final shot at overtime or a win, when two missed free throws by Colorado gave Arizona 14 seconds to come up with a bucket.

"The last play didn't win or lose the game," head coach Sean Miller said. "There were so many plays throughout the course of the game that hurt us. One of the things that I thought gave us a chance is we only had seven turnovers. That's been a problem for us at times when we've lost. The fact we played in a game like this with seven turnovers gave us a chance. But it's really offset when we're 10 for 18 from the line. We're not big enough to go 10 for 18 from the line. We missed at least two front ends of the one and one."

Like the 64-63 loss to the Buffs in Boulder, Arizona couldn't convert with the last possession, as Kyle Fogg missed badly on a well-defended three-point attempt.

And like that game, Colorado never wavered in their attack, even when UA clamped down in the final 10 minutes of the game. It was all but over when guard Carlon Brown blew by the defender for a thunderous dunk as the Wildcats' interior players failed to help -- or even contest the shot.

Fogg led Arizona with 14 points, but he didn't receive enough help.

Consistent effort didn't appear to be a part of Arizona's play on Saturday, the game being their third in three days. At one point in the game, a failed box out by forward Solomon Hill was met by Miller slamming both hands on the media table, then pulling his best player for a couple minutes.

Hill struggled with 13 points and five rebounds, and as a whole Arizona was outrebounded 37-29 on the night.

On the other hand, it was the Buffaloes who had the toughest run, as they were on their fourth game in as many days.

"It wasn't easy, but I'm telling ya, before this game we talked about it as a group," CU coach Tad Boyle said. "If you believe in destiny, you believe in the Colorado Buffaloes."

And in the end, the better team won. Like Arizona, Colorado wasn't going to get by with a star player, and like Arizona, they were going to win with their defense. The result was a combined 104 points, the lowest scoring game in Pac-12 Tournament history by 19 points.

"We turned it over, missed some free throws," Boyle said. "You rely on your defense, you rely on your rebounding. We beat this Arizona team in Boulder the same way -- on a stop."

The Wildcats are left staring at a likely NIT bid, and Miller and his players made no hopeful statements about slipping into the NCAA tournament field.

As Arizona's postseason chances remain up in the air for the next 24 hours or less, the reasonable thing to do is realize how far the Wildcats have come since their exhibition loss to Seattle Pacific.

Said Miller:

"These guys know. I wrote on the lower end of our locker room, Seattle Pacific. That was our starting point. I don't know of too many teams that had a lower starting point.

"I wrote it in the lowest left‑hand corner of our locker room. It's about a centimeter from the carpet. Then we had the NCAA Tournament in the far upper right‑hand corner of the locker room. It's always been about climbing that mountain and staying with it. These guys have done it. We were here today, and it just didn't work."

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