On Friday night, the Arizona Wildcats nearly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. After trailing all game and even being down seven with just 20 seconds remaining, a wild sequence in the final second of the game sent the Wildcats and Ducks to an unlikely overtime. The Ducks had outplayed Arizona all game and led by as much as 17. But they nearly gave the game away as Arizona clawed back with more focused play and many missed Oregon free throws.
Forcing it to overtime wasn't enough though, as the Ducks would go on to win the game and eliminate the Wildcats from the Pac-12 Tournament.
We've touched on Arizona's inconsistencies all year, so, at this point, it's a given. They can't put together a solid 40 minutes against good teams. At times, they look like they can beat, literally, anyone in the country. At other times, they don't even look like they belong in the NCAA Tournament. They had a three minute stretch against Oregon at the end of the first half that they didn't even look like they belonged on the floor with Arizona State, let alone the class of the Pac-12.
It's been said all year -- inconsistencies are going to be what separates this Arizona team from reaching its potential. So, what are three other takeaways from last night's disappointing loss?
If and when Arizona loses in the NCAA Tournament, it will be painful.
After last weekend, I mentioned that this is the gutsiest Arizona team I can remember seeing. And they showed, yet again, last night, that there is no deficit too big and no opponent too good to hold them down. At the end of the first half, the Ducks looked like they were playing a video game with cheat codes. The Wildcats just fumbling all over themselves and the Ducks racing to the rim, trying to turn the game into their own, personal slam dunk contest. But Arizona, like so many times this season, battled back. They made it a game and after some absolute madness occurred, even had a chance to win the game by sinking two free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining. As you know, Mark Tollefsen made one of two, forcing overtime, only to watch Oregon win later on.
I don't know what it is about this team. But, they have certainly shown an affinity for losing ultra-close games this season. In nearly every loss, Arizona has trailed big at one point. And then, suddenly, shots start falling. The defense gets stops. The guys the Wildcats need to make plays start making plays. And they'll get THIS close to stealing the game, but they fall just short.
Arizona's last four NCAA Tournament appearances have ended in heartbreak. The Jamelle Horne three that should have gone in against Connecticut in 2011. Ohio State's Laquinton Ross three in the final seconds against Arizona in 2013. The overtime thriller that ended in Nick Johnson not getting a shot off against Wisconsin in 2014. The Sam Dekker barrage in 2015.
Wildcat fans have gotten used to March heartbreak. This year will be no different. This is just a warning to everyone reading this -- I don't know if it will happen next week. Could happen the week after. But at some point on Arizona's journey to a National Championship, they'll get outplayed by someone and trail by double digits. And then they'll claw back. It's what they do. And it will be close at the end. Will the Wildcats win that game? The evidence we've got strongly suggests that the answer is no. And it's going to hurt.
Allonzo Trier should be the go-to guy in tough spots
When the Ducks hit Arizona with a figurative haymaker toward the end of the second half, it wasn't Arizona's seniors that looked calm, cool and collected. The Wildcats as a whole looked shaken, with the exception of one. That was freshman, Allonzo Trier. Trier continued to keep his head up and play his game. This speaks volumes of his competitive spirit. Trier fouled out with a few minutes left so he was on the bench for the crazy ending and all of overtime. Trier has been a phenomenal offensive player all year. One can't help but wonder how different the game would have turned out with him on the floor. Trier has shown so much poise and downright filthy skill. In the NCAA Tournament, with all due respect to Gabe York, I think Trier is the guy the Wildcats should lean on in shaky moments. Gabe York's crossover, step-back three that he leans on in big moments occasionally goes down. But Trier's all-around attack can keep Arizona in games and get opposing players in foul trouble.
The Wildcats seem locked in as a 5-seed.
If Arizona had beaten Oregon, they would have a win over a projected 2-seed. That would have helped Arizona greatly in terms of seeding. Now, the Wildcats are done playing before Selection Sunday. There are no more opportunities to impress the selection committee. So where does Arizona stand? Right now, we have Arizona as a 5-seed and they seem be locked in, with a slight chance of falling to a 6-seed, depending on how other conference tournament finish. Either way, it appears that Arizona will get one of the best mid-majors in the country in the first round as either an 11 or 12-seed. This is a wild season from top to bottom. It truly appears that anyone can beat anyone else on any given night. It will be interesting to see what supposed giant killer Arizona will be paired with.