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Arizona's season going south after loss to Huskies from Northwest

Madeleine Viceconte | The Daily Wildcat Players watching from the sidelines react to a call from the ref during the game against Washington on Thursday, Feb. 5 at McKale Center. Arizona was defeated by Washington 67-60.

With the rumblings and outside noise facing the program, an air of uncertainty was in McKale Center Thursday night. Normally, a matchup against the top team in the conference would dominate headlines, but all eyes seemed to be on how the ‘Cats would respond amidst the termination of assistant coach Mark Phelps and the NCAA investigation now taking place.

Washington came to Arizona looking to move to 10-0 in conference play, and poor shooting and turnovers sealed the Wildcats' fate in a 67-60 loss, the fourth straight for an Arizona team that almost certainly has to win the Pac-12 tournament to make the NCAA tournament.

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“I’m glad we’re going through this adversity,” senior point guard Justin Coleman said postgame. “It brings us closer as a team. We have eight games left; we’re gonna try and make the best run we can and play for each other.”

Players on the bench react to Arizona getting a foul during the game against Washington on Thursday, Feb. 7 at McKale Center. Arizona lost 67-60.

Washington took control of the game midway through the second half, connecting on six straight shots to open up a double-digit lead with 6:12 remaining. The ‘Cats went 2-12 from 3 after halftime and just 4-18 for the game, while also committing 20 turnovers. 

“We’re not a great shooting team,” head coach Sean Miller said postgame. “We’ve had our moments every once in a while. Its just one player on our team that seems to carry us through. That didn’t happen tonight.”

Early for Arizona, it was the Chase Jeter show. The big man connected on his first four shots from the floor, looking back to normal after his back injury that caused him to miss two of the last three games. The ‘Cats didn’t get points from anybody not named Jeter or Dylan Smith until the 6:13 mark of the first half, when Coleman connected on a three-point play.

Arizona trailed 29-28 at halftime, with Washington making a more concerted effort to get Jaylen Nowell involved. Nowell, possibly the favorite for Player of the Year in the conference, scored the Huskies' final six points of the half to give Washington the lead going into halftime, the last of six lead changes in the first half.

Guard Dylan Smith (3) tries to block a pass during the game against Washington on Thursday, Feb. 7 at McKale Center. Washington beat Arizona with a final score of 67-60.

The loss comes just a day after Arizona initiated the termination process on assistant coach Mark Phelps for an alleged NCAA violation involving the academic transcripts of former UA commit Shareef O’Neal. The university said in a statement that the suspension is “not related to the federal criminal proceedings in New York or the NCAA's review of the facts underlying the allegations of unlawful conduct.”

“I know a couple guys reached out and told him how much they appreciate him as a coach and a guy. He was a great person to the program,” Coleman said. “For right now, we just gotta move forward and continue to get better. Take it day by day.”

Miller declined to comment on the situation postgame. He did say Austin Carroll was promoted to the bench as he was last year when Book Richardson was terminated. Miller was asked about Phelps or the ongoing investigation three straight times, causing him to end the press conference prematurely. 

The loss drops Arizona to 14-9 overall and 5-5 in the conference with four other schools. The gap between the No. 2 seed or the No. 10 seed for the Pac-12 Tournament right now is just two games in the loss column, with only the top-four seeds getting a first round bye.

The Wildcats will take on Washington State on Saturday before hitting the road for Utah and Colorado. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network.

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