Arizona basketball's luck runs out in Eugene
E.J. Singler (25) throws his hands up in victory as Arizona guard Kevin Parrom (03) commits the the last foul on Johnathan Loyd (10) to seal the 70-66 Oregon victory over No. 4 Arizona. (Mason Trinca/Emerald Media Group)
It had to end sometime.
No. 4 Arizona was one of three remaining undefeated Division I teams before it ran into the buzz saw that is Oregon’s basketball team.
Arizona’s 14-game winning streak to start the 2013 basketball season ended in Eugene, Ore., on Thursday night, as the Wildcats were unable to overcome their mistakes and fell to the Ducks, 70-66.
At the start of the game, Arizona looked like it was breaking its recent trend of falling behind opponents only to pull out an improbable victory. The Wildcats opened the game with an 11-0 run, and it seemed like they had finally figured out not to play down to the competition.
But right on cue, the Ducks ripped off an 8-0 run of their own.
The Wildcats were down by one, then by four, then by seven, until the game bounced away from them and left Arizona trailing by 11 at halftime, 30-41.
There was no energy or purpose on offense as the Wildcats turned the ball over 14 times, compared to just 11 assists.
On defense, it seemed that although the Ducks were wearing yellow highlighters for jerseys, Arizona’s players were unable to locate them in transition.
After beating Utah by three and Colorado in overtime after a controversial call by the officials disallowed a shot that would have sunk Arizona, we should have seen this coming, not to mention after trailing Florida for all but the final seven seconds.
This was the Wildcats’ first time playing Oregon on the road since the construction of Matthew Knight Arena, complete with painted fir trees along both sidelines and both baselines, so maybe they just got lost “deep in the woods,” a phrase painted on the court.
In the first half, the Wildcats were so listless on offense, they allowed a 41-19 run that not only energized the crowd and the Oregon team but prompted Arizona coach Sean Miller to shout “Get the fuck out of the game” at a Wildcat player, which ESPN’s cameras picked up after Miller used a time out.
And don’t forget that Arizona 3-point defense. Against Oregon, the Wildcats allowed the Ducks to shoot 63.6 percent from beyond the arc, as Oregon missed just four of the 11 3-pointers they took. In the second half alone, Oregon shot 80 percent from downtown.
This wasn’t the first time Arizona has been in trouble in close games this season, but it was the first time Miller’s frustration was that visible.
Sophomore guard Nick Johnson tied senior guard Mark Lyons with a game-high four turnovers, a far cry from his average of 1.6 per game.
None was bigger than his gaffe with less than 15 seconds left in the game. Arizona had clawed its way back, down by three with a chance to push into overtime, but Johnson turned the ball over while attempting to dribble behind his back.
The Ducks sank one free throw, sealing the upset, and Oregon fans and players cheered on the court like they had just beaten a team that deserved to be called the No. 4 team in the country.
The problem was that the Wildcats haven’t played like a top-five team since the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic over Christmas break.
There is good news, though. A silver lining, if you will.
Arizona, despite losing to Oregon, is still the best team in the Pac-12. It has the best combination of experience and talent in the conference but was in need of a wake-up call from the Ducks.
This smack in the face should serve as a reminder of the kind of play that ended Arizona’s 2011 season in the first round of the NIT.
The saddest part about the loss is that with the new Pac-12 scheduling rules, there will be no rematch of this game this season, unless the two teams meet again in the Pac-12 Tournament.