The Arizona Wildcats found themselves down 16-2 to the Gonzaga Bulldogs early in the game in Seattle. They would find themselves down by as many as 20 points shortly after halftime and got within six points with less than 1:30 to play.
In the end, the tale of two halves didn't matter. Arizona fell 71-60 to Gonzaga on Saturday, and it all came down to aggressiveness.
Forget the fact that the Wildcats rolled the dice with a small-ball lineup of Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill as the big men facing a legitimate 7-footer in Robert Sacre and a thick power forward in Elias Harris. Forget the fact that the Bulldogs won in the paint, outrebounding Arizona 29-19.
Aggressiveness, or a lack thereof in the case of Arizona, was highlighted at the foul line.Going 8-for-9 from the foul stripe themselves, the Wildcats gave up 32 free throws to the Bulldogs, only 20 of which were made.
In short, the Wildcats should have lost by more.
Often times, they looked strong defensively, but that was misleading. On offense, Arizona was out of sync and shot 41 percent, but Gonzaga only managed to hit 44 percent of its own buckets. And neither turnovers nor offensive rebounds gave the Bulldogs much more of an advantage.
But when it came down to it -- and you could see it from the pure physicality of the game, too -- the Wildcats got smacked in the face and slunk away. While the defensive pressure remained aggressive, Arizona looked afraid on the offensive end.
Nobody wanted to create within the offense, and Arizona reverted to launched 3s off the first pass rather than running its motion offense. And nobody in the first half appeared to want to punch Gonzaga back.
Aside from one fierce blocked shot out of bounds by freshman Angelo Chol, Arizona just didn't know how to send a message.
The only bright spots were Kyle Fogg and Nick Johnson. But Fogg hid in the weeds until the second half, and Johnson, a freshman, shouldn't be asked to carry this team now or, in all fairness, anytime this season. Fogg finished with 14 points and Johnson added 13 of his own with five assists.
The leading rebounder on Saturday was center Kyryl Natyazhko. He pulled down six rebounds and had his best game of the season that was still marred with his soft interior play. Perry, who had scrapped his way to nearly averaging a double-double, couldn't grab more than two rebounds and Hill got slaughtered by Harris in the paint.
Harris scored 27 points, 17 in the first half.
So where does head coach Sean Miller go from here? Toughness isn't easy to teach, after all.
Maybe he could just replay the first half of Saturday's loss a few days this week. He can point out Sacre's bull-nosed attitude in the paint. Maybe Harris' alertness and hungriness to get the ball.
After two solid showings in a row, Arizona reverted back to its unsure self. The free throws numbers show that aggressiveness was lost over a prolonged break from competition.
Now the question is, "When will the Wildcats get it back?"