After the Arizona Wildcats claimed the opening tip, senior point guard Justin Coleman pulled up for a deep 3 at the top of the arc.
It barely grazed the rim before trickling out of bounds.
That errant shot set the tone for an ugly night of basketball in McKale Center, and one of the most ghastly losses in recent UA history.
The Wildcats were blasted by the Washington State Cougars 69-55, getting thoroughly dominated — at home, no less — by one of the worst teams in a downtrodden Pac-12.
The Wildcats (14-10, 5-6) missed their first seven shots and did not score their first points until the 14-minute mark of the first half.
Things wouldn’t get much better.
After 40 minutes of horrific basketball, Arizona emerged with a .317/.273/.550 shooting line. One member of the ZonaZoo yelled “Oh my God!” as a Wildcat free throw rimmed out. Fans were frustrated, but also in shock, hardly making a sound for most of the game.
Most have never seen anything like this. This is the first time the Wildcats have lost five straight since the 1983-84 season, the first year of the Lute Olson era.
It’s also the first time Arizona has lost to WSU since Feb, 6 2010. The Cougars’ star player that night? Klay Thompson.
The unprecedented struggles have depressed the fanbase and ravaged the team’s confidence.
“When you miss shots for a game, it can bother you,” said UA coach Sean Miller. “When you miss shots for a couple games, it can really bother you. We have a number of players in that boat.”
Arizona trailed by 12 at the half after WSU’s Robert Franks sank a 3 at the buzzer. The senior torched the Wildcats for 31 points, as Arizona’s defense wasn’t much better than its offense.
The Cougars (10-14, 3-8) shot 41 percent from 3. Franks alone drilled seven triples.
“We didn’t really have an answer for Franks,” Miller said. “First half, second half. Playing him with a smaller player, playing him with a bigger player.”
After Franks’ buzzer-beater swished through the net to cap a dismal first half, UA athletic director Dave Heeke met with a throng of reporters to express his full support of Miller amid Mark Phelps’ suspension and the ongoing federal and NCAA investigations.
There, Heeke acknowledged that the seemingly endless circus around the program has taken its toll on the team’s performance.
“Adversity is everything,” he said.
Senior forward Ryan Luther said outside noise won’t break the team apart, but couldn’t deny that the recent losing streak has left them dejected.
“Anytime you lose it takes a toll,” he said. “We work hard every day and try to get better in practice. Unfortunately we just haven’t been able to put it together this last stretch of games, but of course it takes a toll on us.”
The Wildcats lacked fight in the second half and the Cougars put them away with ease. They maintained a double-digit lead until four straight Arizona free throws — two being the product of a flagrant foul — cut it to 51-42 with nine minutes left.
The home crowd, looking for anything to cheer about, started to come alive, but Washington State quieted the run by extending its lead to 13 with 7:24 left.
Dylan Smith buried a 3 to bring the Wildcats back within single digits with six minutes left, but WSU’s CJ Elleby, who had 18 points, immediately matched it with a trey of his own.
At that point, the deficit was too great for the Wildcats, who were admittedly caught off guard by the Cougars’ game plan.
“It kind of surprised me that Washington State played man-to-man from start to finish,” Miller said. “It’s not really what they’ve done in the past, but they sensed their plan was working and they did a good job.”
Smith was one of four Arizona players in double figures, scoring 10, while Coleman had 14, Luther had 11 and Devonaire Doutrive added 10 along with 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. Brandon Randolph and Chase Jeter combined for two points on 11 shots.
Brandon Williams missed his third straight game as he is sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury. Miller said Arizona badly misses the scoring, distributing and depth the freshman provides.
The Wildcats were 5-3 in conference play with Williams, but now 0-3 without him.
“I think the thing that I worried the most about before we started this season is an injury to a key player or a couple injuries. And that’s not the entire story (for our struggles), but ... we miss that right now,” Miller said. “In our current circumstances, we’re vulnerable. Any team that’s on our schedule certainly can beat us.”
Miller said the Wildcats have “a lot of options” to try to fix their recent woes, but the team knows there are no obvious solutions.
“We’re all we got,” Doutrive said with a blank stare. “We just gotta fight through it.”