BOISE, Idaho — With 7:11 left in the second half, Deandre Ayton slammed his hand on the court as a Rawle Alkins entry pass down low grazed off the fingertips of the massive 7-1 freshman. Already down by 14 points to Buffalo, Ayton’s outburst of frustration confirmed what many had already begun to suspect: Arizona men’s basketball’s season was over.
The player who vowed to get Sean Miller to the Final Four was realizing he couldn’t fulfil his promise. A minute later, Ayton missed a layup and Buffalo raced down the court just like it had all game long and drained a 3-pointer. 17-point deficit.
Before the madness ensued and the upset bells were ringing on high, Ayton knew Arizona didn’t have its typical stuff.
“I will say at halftime. When we actually looked back and looked at the stats,” Ayton said. “They were killing us on the glass. It was long rebounds we couldn’t really get on the offensive glass, including me.”
The Bahamian big drew the tough assignment on Buffalo perimeter shooter Jeremy Harris. Harris consistently blew by the 260 pounder to get easy buckets on the glass and provided a big boost from outside with three 3’s that Ayton wasn’t able to get his hand in front off.
Harris, a 6-7 All-MAC Second-Team selection, notched 23 points total, compared to Ayton’s 14. The Pac-12 Player of the Year only had four shot attempts in the first 16 minutes minutes of the second half and six the entire half as Arizona couldn’t find a way to involve college basketball’s most dominant interior player. That didn’t please the big man.
“Just a little bit,” Ayton said of his frustration level. “My guys were telling me that the guards were always behind me or somebody was always under me, so they were hesitant to pass me the ball over the top.”
Ayton finished his final game as an Arizona Wildcat with 14 points, 13 rebounds and a 46 percent shooting percentage as Arizona exited the NCAA Tournament in the first round for the second time in three years.
“He’s frustrated because his career is ending,” Miller said. “He wanted to keep playing.”
But that stat line will fade away as Ayton moves on to the NBA and historians dissect how dominant he was at the collegiate level.
“Deandre superseded any expectation that I could have ever set for him,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “But for anybody to not remember Deandre as the greatest freshman that ever walked through Arizona, they weren’t paying attention statistically and just the type of kid he is.”
Ayton provided some of the best moments of Arizona basketball in the Sean Miller era, and there won’t be another player walking through the doors of McKale for quite some time. But no matter where he goes next, Ayton said that this experience will stay with him.
“This is the only team I actually loved,” Ayton said. “I actually bonded with them, especially with the things we went through throughout the year.”
The best recruit ever to come to Arizona played only one game in the NCAA Tournament. Like Ayton, Arizona too was one and done.
But the ride sure was fun.
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