The Arizona Wildcats closed out the regular season with a 69-63 loss to the last-place Washington Huskies on Saturday in McKale Center, finishing the regular season 20-11 overall and 10-8 in the Pac-12.
The roller coaster continues
When I look back at the regular season, the two words that best describe it are consistently inconsistent, and that theme held true in this homestand.
Here are Arizona’s scoring differentials in its last four halves (UA’s point total is in bold):
As you can see, all sides of the spectrum are covered here: a big lead, a big deficit, a small lead, a small deficit. Pretty much anything can happen from half to half, even though Arizona’s personnel is fairly static.
Consider: Nico Mannion was on the court for all 40 minutes on Saturday. Zeke Nnaji played 35, Josh Green played 33, Dylan Smith played 32.
Somehow a lineup that is more or less the same can look like a well-oiled machine one half, then a train wreck the next. And because Arizona played better in the second half, it dispels the idea that it does not make adjustments and/or that fatigue was a major factor.
Essentially, the only way to explain Arizona’s unpredictability is that this is a talented group with very little continuity or ability to handle adversity, likely caused by inexperience, too much roster turnover, and a coach that cannot seem to connect with his players.
“I’m very disappointed,” Miller said. “I’m the coach, we weren’t ready. We’ve struggled having that Thursday night game, a win, having that day in between and being equally good (on Saturday). It’s bugged us, man, as far back as we were in Anaheim. We’re still that team.”
And the fact Miller is saying that in March means it’s probably too late to find a solution. This team is what it is.
“I want you to think about this,” he said. “The second half tonight we were 15 of 32 from the field and 7 of 13 from 3. We didn't get to the line a lot and I know we had eight turnovers, which is too many, but the same group went out in the first half went 5 for 25, 1 for 8 (from 3), and had 10 turnovers. We have to be able to be consistent.
“In the first half we couldn’t make a shot, second half we did. It has to even out and at this point in the season we’ve seen every defense known to man. We’ve actually attacked zone defenses very well this year. We have. We didn’t tonight. Washington, they do a great job with their zone for sure, but we certainly have it in us to be better.”
Dylan Smith deserves a salute
I thought a fan in McKale Center summed this game up aptly when she said: “No one’s playing well today—except for Dylan Smith.”
Smith had 19 points and five rebounds while going 6 for 10 from 3 and only committing one turnover. He saved his best game in McKale Center for last. Not only that, he was one of the few players who actually looked like he cared, even though it would have been really easy for him to call it quits.
Smith took an elbow to the face in the first half that broke his nose and forced him to flee to the locker room just to stop the bleeding. But he was only gone for a few minutes, returning to the court with puffs of cotton in his nose, and maybe even a concussion to boot.
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Miller said. “He took one heck of a shot.”
Yet, Smith hung in there and hit six 3-pointers to bring Arizona within striking distance, the most he has ever made in a UA uniform.
To score one point in the first half, then 18 in the second was a very fitting way for him to end his time in McKale. For all the lumps Smith has taken during his career, both verbal and physical, it has never stopped him from playing hard and being unapologetically Dylan.
“His fight in the second half, just watching him take that hit and respond, it’s quite a testament to him being a tough kid,” Miller said.
The backcourt is thin and could get thinner
If Smith does have a concussion, his status for Wednesday’s Pac-12 Tournament opener vs. Washington will be in serious doubt, putting an already thin backcourt in even more trouble.
That is especially true now that Max Hazzard seems unlikely to return to the court for reasons unknown (Miller had no update on his status) and Jemarl Baker Jr. is stuck in a terrible shooting slump, going 3 for his last 21 from behind the arc.
With the starters being as inconsistent as they are, strong bench play would be a stabilizing force. However, that unit got outscored 30-7 by Washington’s reserves, only underscoring the problem.
Senior Day was sad but not in a sentimental way
Early Saturday morning I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw a video compilation of some of the heartwarming Senior Day festivities across the country.
There was this comment alongside it: “Something special about Senior Days. So emotional because of the bond these guys have built with their school, coaches, teammates, fans over four years.”
Not for the Wildcats. Theirs was just plain sad—and not in a sentimental way.
Of the six players commemorated on Senior Day, none were signed by Arizona out of high school, two have only spent one year in the program, and two others are walk-ons.
Their connection to the fan base? Minimal, and it was reflected in the ceremonies.
There were no tribute videos, chilling introductions, or standing ovations. A few sentences were uttered about each player, they held up a framed jersey, posed for some photos, and that was that.
Making the optics even worse is that Chase Jeter was serving a suspension while Hazzard wasn’t even part of the team once the revelry ended, going separate ways as he missed another game for personal reasons.
It was a forgettable day, which made it an appropriate sendoff.
The harsh reality is that none of the seniors—except for maybe Smith who won a Pac-12 championship in 2017-18—have played in a meaningful game at Arizona.
And the way things are going, they never will.