The No. 24 Arizona Wildcats fell off the pace atop the Pac-12 standings Saturday night, losing to No. 14 Oregon 73-72 in overtime at the McKale Center.
The loss dropped the Wildcats to 19-8 overall and 9-5 in conference play heading into next week’s visit to the Los Angeles schools.
This hasn’t always been the case with this Arizona team, but the Wildcats actually shot pretty well from 3 on Saturday night.
There were multiple times that the Cats and Ducks traded shots from 3-point land, and UA finished 10 for 23 (44%) from beyond the arc.
Comparatively, Oregon was just 10 for 28 (36%).
Dylan Smith went 4 for 8 from deep, Max Hazzard 2 for 4, and Nico Mannion 2 for 5, while Josh Green and Stone Gettings both knocked down a trey as well.
Numbers like that have normally been good enough for Arizona to get a victory this year. And if not for another late-game collapse, they would have won this one too.
In fact, Saturday’s loss to the Ducks was only the second time this season that the Wildcats have shot 40% from three in a game and didn’t win.
The other time?
Jan. 9 at Oregon.
Christian Koloko’s emergence
It obviously was a nightmare ending for Koloko, but I’m not holding that against him here.
Apart from those two missed free throws at the end of OT that essentially lost the game, there is no denying that the freshman from Cameroon played well against the Ducks.
Koloko put in a career high 16 minutes, grabbing 6 rebounds, while also scoring two points and blocking a shot. It’s worth noting his block came on an attempt from Oregon talisman Payton Pritchard.
Koloko’s impact on defense was so great, that down the stretch in overtime, Miller was subbing him and Zeke for offensive and defensive possessions. Afterwards, Miller insisted Koloko should keep his head up, despite the rough ending.
“It’s tough on Christian because he was in on defense and no clock ran, we weren’t able to sub. If we were able to sub we probably would have had Zeke (Nnaji) in on that role there,” Miller said of the final play in OT.
“But in that situation you want a chance to win and we certainly had one. This loss doesn’t fall on Christian. He did a really good job in a lot of areas.”
I put Dylan in the down section after his performance against Oregon State and he responded with one of his better games of the season on Saturday night.
The senior finished with 18 points against the Ducks, leading Arizona in scoring while hitting 6 of 13 shots, including four 3s.
He pulled down a couple boards and registered an assist as well, but even more importantly he committed just one turnover.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a guy play any better or harder than he played, Miller said of Smith after the game.
“Not only did he guard Pritchard for most of the game but he had 18 points. He did a great job, I’m really proud of him. Where we erred is in the first eight minutes of the game where we didn’t put Dylan on Payton Pritchard and he got off to a really hot start.”
Dylan truly is an X-factor for this team and his performance helped put the Wildcats in a position to win this game.
In all honesty, it was a position they should have won from.
Late-game execution (again)
This is an obvious, obvious choice for the down section.
While there were multiple questionable calls by the referees down the stretch which hurt them, once again the Wildcats faltered when the lights were the brightest in a big game.
They were outscored by the Ducks 18-11 in the last five minutes of regulation plus overtime, allowing Oregon back in the game despite leading by six with a little more than three minutes remaining and four with under a minute left.
The Cats continuously ran the shot clock down in their last few possessions. either getting poor shots or getting fouled and being unable to convert from the foul line.
Green’s missed foul shots to win the game at the end of regulation and Koloko’s to either win or tie in OT about summed up the Wildcats’ closing ability this season.
Again, this is an obvious choice for the down section.
The Wildcats finished the game a ridiculously poor 10-21 from the FT line — including some crucial misses down the stretch.
Mannion, Gettings, Green and Koloko all missed some crucial ones in the final moments.
If the Cats had been a little more efficient at the line, they would have won the game — but even despite their struggles the UA had a legitimate chance to beat the Ducks at the stripe in both regulation and OT.
Green and Koloko both went to the foul line with just seconds remaining — Green with the score tied 64-64 and with 2.5 seconds remaining in regulation and Koloko down one 73-72 with just one second remaining in OT.
They each missed both of the FTs, putting the cherry on top a rough night at the line.
The Wildcats had absolutely no answer for the Ducks’ senior, as he went for a career high 38 points. He significantly outplayed Mannion (11 points, 8 assists) and totally kept Oregon in the game at points, dusting pretty much anyone who tried to guard him.
Of all the Wildcats, Dylan Smith had the most success and while Pritchard didn’t score in OT, but he made big play after big play for Oregon to get there.
He has my vote for Pac-12 Player of the Year.