'Highs and Lows' of Arizona basketball's 2017-18 season
After a 75-61 victory over USC, the Arizona Wildcats celebrated their second consecutive Pac-12 Championship, with Deandre Ayton winning Championship MVP and an itch for March Madness.
The Arizona men’s basketball team finished the 2017-18 season with a 27-8 record, won the Pac-12 Championship but fell flat in the Tournament. Sandwiched between all that was drama, big wins and plenty of adversity. It’s time to reflect on the highs and lows of Arizona’s season.
The FBI investigation surrounding bribery and former assistant coach Book Richardson hung over the Arizona program all season. When Richardson was arrested on September 26, it marked the beginning of what became an arduous journey for the Wildcats. Each road trip was greeted by signs and chants of “F-B-I” which may be expected to continue into next season.
The worst three-game stretch of Arizona’s play came during the Thanksgiving holiday as the team traveled to Nassau, Bahamas to compete in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. In the span of 50 hours, the preseason No. 3 team lost three consecutive games that plunged them right out of the top 25. Losses to NC State and SMU the first two nights came down to the wire, but then an 89-64 drubbing at the hands of Purdue sent Arizona in an early tailspin. The highest Arizona climbed the rest of the season was No. 9, and only held that spot for a week.
Allonzo Trier was deemed indefinitely ineligible by the NCAA on Feb. 22 for a positive PED test that revealed “trace amounts” of a banned substance. Trier was first suspended at the start of the 2016 season and missed Arizona’s first 19 games. The junior guard eventually returned after just a two-game absence but his efficiency and production dropped significantly during Arizona’s last six games of the year.
Miller doesn’t coach vs Oregon:
The controversial Feb. 23 ESPN report claiming that head coach Sean Miller discussed a $100,000 payment to land freshman Deandre Ayton shook Tucson and the entire college hoops landscape. Miller and the university decided it was best that he didn’t coach the game against Oregon which took place the following day. As a result, Arizona gave up 98 points in Eugene and lost to the Ducks in overtime. Miller’s future remained in a very fragile state and it wasn’t until several days later that a resolution came to a head.
One-and-done in NCAA Tournament:
Arizona had an early exit in the NCAA Tournament as the No. 4 seeded Wildcats were stunned in a 21-point upset loss to No. 13 seed Buffalo. Given the fact that Arizona had one of the best players in college basketball in Ayton, and several other talented players on the roster, a collapse in the round of 64 can be seen as a major disappointment.
10-game win streak:
Post-Bahamas, Arizona turned it around slowly, but surely. The ‘Cats rattled off 10 straight wins and climbed back to No. 14 in the AP poll going into the New Year. Wins included a last-minute victory over Texas A&M, road wins at UNLV and New Mexico.
The 12-0 start by the Sun Devils had many wondering if Tempe was home to the nation’s best team. Arizona quickly squashed that with an 84-78 win in Tucson on Dec. 30 to begin conference play and the Sun Devils could never quite regain their “Guard U” swagger from there on out. During the rematch in Tempe in mid-February, the ‘Cats used a dominant late-game performance from Deandre Ayton to beat ASU in what was one of the Sun Devil’s most anticipated home games in years. The records still show that ASU has yet to beat Arizona under Bobby Hurley.
Miller and Trier’s return:
March 1 will be a day for the Arizona basketball history books. Miller denied the ESPN allegations in a press conference and announced that he will continue to coach the team, which UA president Dr. Robert Robbins confirmed a few hours later. Shortly before tip-off against Stanford, the NCAA reinstated Allonzo Trier and he started the game for the ‘Cats. The home game versus Stanford featured a standing ovation for both Miller and Trier.
Arizona won the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas thanks to an out-of-this-world performance by Ayton in back-to-back nights. The 7-foot-1 freshman sensation scored 32 points and collected at least 14 rebounds in games versus UCLA and USC to capture the crown and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. It was this stretch of games in the tournament that led many to believe Arizona was a legitimate Final Four contender.
Besides the spectacular season from Ayton, the Wildcat’s 2017-18 season may go down as the most disappointing finish in the Miller era. It was widely considered this was the year Arizona got to the Final Four, with the best recruit to ever come to Arizona teaming up with other strong recruits and a group of experienced returning players, two of which are possible NBA draft picks. The perceived level of talent and depth never developed into what many thought it would be, and the 21-point loss to Buffalo goes down as one of the largest losses by a top 4 seed in NCAA Tournament history.