LAS VEGAS, NV -- We've seen this story several times this year. Arizona falls behind big, tries to dig itself out, but comes up just a bit short.
Well, it happened again on Friday night. Except in crazy, extended fashion.
That would send Mark Tollefsen to the line for two free throws down a point. He would miss the first, but sacked up to nail the second and send the game to overtime.
But overtime would not be the dream ending for Arizona. It would be the movie-like ending for Oregon instead.
Dwayne Benjamin, who had suffered a foot/leg injury early in the game, re-entered by hobbling out onto the court in the extra period. And then of course, on the first possession he was back in, he nailed a three. The Ducks would hit another three right after to take an 86-80 lead, and never look back.
The final score wound up being 95-89.
The whole final sequence started with a late push by the Wildcats, getting within four with just under three minutes left. Parker Jackson-Cartwright nailed his first shot of the game, a three from the right wing. Even though it was his first make, his ability to find Comanche down low on a regular basis was a huge reason why Arizona was able to stay in this game as well.
After that PJC make, Oregon was shooting free throws. They missed both, but an offensive rebound led to a made bucket, which really hurt the Wildcats.
These timely buckets by the Ducks were a theme throughout the night, not just late in the game.
Oregon took a commanding lead early, but the Wildcats were undeterred, showing the fight that we've seen this team have for the overwhelming majority of the time this year. After pulling within two with several minutes left in the first half, Oregon decided to take it up a notch, leaving Arizona in the dust. A 13-0 run combined with just 1-of-10 shooting by the Wildcats to close out the first half put the Ducks up 44-29 at the break. That 15-point deficit was the largest Arizona's had at halftime this year.
Despite lackluster performances from both Gabe York and Ryan Anderson, the Wildcats would climb back into it in the second half, thanks in large part to Chance Comanche. The freshman got early minutes in the second half, and his presence on the floor allowed Arizona to cut the lead to single digits and then some. Benjamin's absence for the extended period of time helped the Wildcats as well, as he recorded eight points and seven rebounds before the injury.
This was a hard-fought game, and even though Arizona did not play well, they took a team that will likely end up as a 2-seed at worst in the NCAA Tournament to overtime. That's sort of encouraging.
Here are some other takeaways:
- If York and Anderson are even a little bit effective, Arizona wins this game. The two combined to shoot 9-of-33 from the field, and were beat defensively time and time again. This was Anderson's worst game in a Wildcat jersey, and what a time to have it.
- Comanche has a case to be the starting center next year. He looks like a better overall player than Dusan Ristic right now, and if you had told me three weeks ago I'd be typing those words in 2016, I would have sent you to the mental hospital. This is a real thing right now.
- Pac-12 refs are gonna Pac-12 ref. Another potential game-changing play was the foul call on Allonzo Trier which resulted in his fourth of the game with over eight minutes left. Trier was Arizona's leading scorer, at the time and for a majority of the game, was the only player able to create anything on the offensive end. That play, along with a change in philosophy in the second half by the refs did have a slight impact on this one. Also, a reviewed play that resulted in an Oregon possession that most people seemed to think was Arizona ball was thrown in there. Fortunately, this should be the last time we deal with Pac-12 refs this season.
- That's one way to end the MGM era for Arizona. The Wildcats, and more specifically, the Arizona fans, have had a great time in MGM Grand over the last four years. This will be the Wildcats' final game in the arena, as the Pac-12 announced on Friday before the game that they will move to the new T-Mobile Arena across the street in 2017. So long MGM, and so long winding walkway to get to the arena.