[ {"id":"7fc45880-0e5f-5c31-be04-0f188e990fcc","type":"article","starttime":"1490568300","starttime_iso8601":"2017-03-26T15:45:00-07:00","lastupdated":"1490596129","priority":45,"sections":[{"basketball":"sports/arizonawildcats/basketball"}],"flags":{"editors_pick":"true","featured":"true"},"application":"editorial","title":"Arizona Wildcats basketball team could look vastly different next year","url":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/basketball/article_7fc45880-0e5f-5c31-be04-0f188e990fcc.html","permalink":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/basketball/arizona-wildcats-basketball-team-could-look-vastly-different-next-year/article_7fc45880-0e5f-5c31-be04-0f188e990fcc.html","canonical":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/basketball/arizona-wildcats-basketball-team-could-look-vastly-different-next-year/article_7fc45880-0e5f-5c31-be04-0f188e990fcc.html","relatedAssetCounts":{"article":0,"audio":0,"image":2,"link":0,"vmix":0,"youtube":0,"gallery":0},"byline":"By Bruce Pascoe\nArizona Daily Star","prologue":"No matter who leaves, UA will still boast plenty of talent for 2017-18 season.","supportsComments":true,"commentCount":0,"keywords":[],"internalKeywords":["#top5sports","#latest","#editorspick","#topstory"],"customProperties":{"arm_id":"75187","label":"basketball"},"presentation":"","images":[{"id":"6fdc8ae9-ba49-5a39-b1d9-e4ec843e8703","description":"Before his 19-game suspension, Arizona Wildcats guard Allonzo Trier was on track to leave for the NBA after this season. He still might, but at least one expert believes his time off the court might result in him sticking around another year.","byline":"Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star","hireswidth":1699,"hiresheight":1219,"hiresurl":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/6/fd/6fdc8ae9-ba49-5a39-b1d9-e4ec843e8703/58d84241c09d9.hires.jpg","presentation":"","versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1059","height":"760","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/6/fd/6fdc8ae9-ba49-5a39-b1d9-e4ec843e8703/58d84241becc3.image.jpg?resize=1059%2C760"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"56","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/6/fd/6fdc8ae9-ba49-5a39-b1d9-e4ec843e8703/58d84241becc3.image.jpg?crop=1699%2C955%2C0%2C13&resize=100%2C56&order=crop%2Cresize"},"300": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"300","height":"169","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/6/fd/6fdc8ae9-ba49-5a39-b1d9-e4ec843e8703/58d84241becc3.image.jpg?crop=1699%2C955%2C0%2C13&resize=300%2C169&order=crop%2Cresize"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"576","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/6/fd/6fdc8ae9-ba49-5a39-b1d9-e4ec843e8703/58d84241becc3.image.jpg?crop=1699%2C955%2C0%2C13&resize=1024%2C576&order=crop%2Cresize"}}},{"id":"3655a3e9-230b-5a0d-8ece-04824a9c0dfb","description":"Parker Jackson-Cartwright will likely get the point guard job all to himself next season after averaging 5.9 points in 24.9 minutes per game this year.","byline":"Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star","hireswidth":1234,"hiresheight":1678,"hiresurl":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/65/3655a3e9-230b-5a0d-8ece-04824a9c0dfb/58d8424254698.hires.jpg","presentation":"","versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"559","height":"760","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/65/3655a3e9-230b-5a0d-8ece-04824a9c0dfb/58d84242538ac.image.jpg?resize=559%2C760"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"136","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/65/3655a3e9-230b-5a0d-8ece-04824a9c0dfb/58d84242538ac.image.jpg?resize=100%2C136"},"300": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"300","height":"408","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/65/3655a3e9-230b-5a0d-8ece-04824a9c0dfb/58d84242538ac.image.jpg?resize=300%2C408"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"1392","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/65/3655a3e9-230b-5a0d-8ece-04824a9c0dfb/58d84242538ac.image.jpg?resize=1024%2C1392"}}}],"revision":14,"commentID":"7fc45880-0e5f-5c31-be04-0f188e990fcc","body":"

About a week from now, as the college basketball season comes to a close in Glendale, a flood of \u201cWay-Too-Early\u201d Top 25 picks for 2016-17 will start popping up all over the internet.

And, especially for the Arizona Wildcats, they really will be Way Too Early.

The Wildcats are scheduled to have arguably the nation\u2019s No. 1 high school player next season, center DeAndre Ayton, but their 2016-17 roster and potential rotation really won\u2019t start shaping up until May.

While UA will likely fall into the eventual preseason Top 25 at some place, how the Wildcats look next season will be determined largely by what happens in the next two months during UA\u2019s annual \u201croster transition\u201d season.

Here are some of the questions ahead:

1. Who\u2019s leaving early?

While UA will lose only one senior, Kadeem Allen, the Wildcats are expected to lose at least two players to professional basketball this spring \u2014 likely Lauri Markkanen and Kobi Simmons, while Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins appear to be considering it.

None of the four would comment on their futures after UA\u2019s season-ending loss to Xavier on Thursday, but some indications have already surfaced.

Markkanen may have arrived at UA with a plan of staying for two years, but his status as a near-certain Top 10 pick means he has strong incentive to leave. Players taken in the Top 10 are guaranteed at least $4.5 million (plus endorsement deals) over two years under the NBA\u2019s rookie salary scale, and a player in that category who gets hurt or fails to improve when returning to school may never see that kind of money again.

Draft Express pegs Markkanen as the No. 8 pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves, who happened to be Markkanen\u2019s favorite team as a youth (though lottery pick positions have not yet been set).

Simmons is a curious case because his playing time and production dropped off rapidly in the last month of the season, and Draft Express noted \u201che\u2019s looked highly dejected and clearly not on the same page with the coaching staff.\u201d But his size, athleticism and shooting ability still make him an intriguing prospect for an NBA team willing to stash him in the D-League and see what happens.

\u201cNBA scouts like Simmons\u2019 talent level but have major concerns about his intangibles, especially considering how much development he still needs in terms of his skill-level and basketball IQ,\u201d Draft Express president Jonathan Givony wrote last week. \u201cHe\u2019s likely to declare for the draft, and will benefit from the advent of the two-way contract (between NBA and D-League), which will allow him to make some decent money while the team that picks him evaluates if he can get his act together in the D-League.\u201d

After opting to come back for his sophomore season last spring, Trier was considered a near-certain NBA departure this year but his 19-game suspension and subsequent half-season of play may have changed that thinking. Givony says he believes Trier will leave if he\u2019s considered a first-round pick, and since Trier is not projected that way as of now by Draft Express, Trier was moved from its 2017 to its 2018 mock draft (at No. 36, in the high second round).

Alkins is listed not far below Trier in Draft Express\u2019 2018 mock, at No. 46, and he\u2019s the No. 70 overall NBA prospect on the list of ESPN analyst Chad Ford. Those projections suggest he\u2019ll need time in the D-League if he opts to leave UA early this spring.

\u201cAlkins is already built like an NBA veteran, and his game is slowly coming around as well,\u201d ESPN posted on Thursday. \u201cWhen he\u2019s hitting shots, rebounding and defending, Arizona is tough to beat. He just needs more consistency.\u201d

Because junior center Dusan Ristic is a skilled 7-footer with a European passport, he always has the option of leaving for pro ball in Europe, as Ukrainian big man Kyryl Natyazhko did after his junior year. But he is expected to return for his senior season, as fellow Serbian Ivan Radenovic did in 2006-07.

2. Who\u2019s transferring?

Since Simmons appears much more likely to turn pro than transfer \u2014 five-star prospects rarely want to sit out a redshirt year anymore \u2014 this question may not be valid this year.

The last two players to make conventional transfers from Arizona were freshman guard Justin Simon (to St. John\u2019s last spring) and freshman forward Craig Victor (to LSU in December 2014). Junior wing Elliott Pitts also transferred to a junior college near his Northern California home last summer after he was suspended from UA for sexual misconduct.

Because Arizona\u2019s bench was thin for much of this season, the Wildcats really don\u2019t have anybody else besides Simmons in the disgruntled-end-of-the-bench category who might consider transferring. Center Chance Comanche is at the turning point of his career as a sophomore, and will have stiff competition again for playing time next season, but averaged nearly 20 minutes this season and improved across the board.

3. Who else will sign?

Arizona already has four signees for the recruiting class of 2017 \u2014 Ayton, point guard Alex Barcello of Tempe, shooting guard Brandon Randolph of New York and forward Ira Lee of Los Angeles \u2014 giving them the maximum 13 players on paper for next season. A potential 14th player, forward Ray Smith, will likely move over to a scholarship that will not count against the max because of his career-ending knee injuries.

But UA coach Sean Miller has said he hopes to add a player or two this spring, likely because he\u2019ll lose at least two players early.

UA\u2019s biggest remaining 2017 targets appear to be Delaware point guard Trevon Duval, Michigan wing Brian Bowen and San Diego center Brandon McCoy.

All three of those five-star targets will be joining Ayton in the McDonalds All-American game on Wednesday in Chicago \u2014 with McCoy and Bowen playing with Ayton on the West team, and Duval on the East team.

Miller could also tap into the four-year transfer market, as he has done regularly each spring, getting Ryan Anderson, Dylan Smith, Talbott Denny, Mark Tollefsen and T.J. McConnell (plus juco transfer Kadeem Allen) in recent years.

Two possibilities so far are players Miller targeted out of high school: Duke transfer Chase Jeter, who is seeking a new program closer to his Las Vegas home, and Washington signee Daejon Davis, a guard from Seattle who asked out of his letter-of-intent after Lorenzo Romar was fired.

4. Will any assistant coaches leave?

Two of Miller\u2019s assistant coaches are well-respected former head coaches \u2014 Joe Pasternack and Mark Phelps \u2014 while longtime Miller aide Book Richardson is an exceptionally well-connected and well-liked recruiter, especially in the East.

Pasternack, who has helped Miller land high-profile talents such as Lauri Markkanen and several Oakland Soldiers travel-ball prospects \u2014 had his name floating around Cal\u2019s recent vacancy before assistant Wyking Jones was promoted to replace Cuonzo Martin.

So far, though, the biggest movement in the job market has been by ex-UA assistants: Archie Miller (a UA assistant from 2009-11), left Dayton to become Indiana\u2019s head coach, while Ball State coach James Whitford (at Arizona from 2009-13) has been linked to the Duquesne opening and also mentioned as Arch\u2019s possible replacement at Dayton.

5. What will the starting lineup Be?

Unless UA lands Duval, Parker Jackson-Cartwright will likely get the point guard job all to himself next season, while Ristic could find himself paired with Ayton in a big frontcourt just like he was with Markkanen this season (and with Comanche as a super-sub). But filling in the wing spots, until the decisions of Trier, Alkins and Simmons are finalized, makes the rest of it just a guess.

Really, it\u2019s just Way Too Early to tell.

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Maybe it was fitting for the Arizona Wildcats that, in the final minutes of their 2016-17 season, Allonzo Trier largely had the ball in his hands.

Their season, which ended with a loss to Xavier on Thursday in the Sweet 16, was defined by their ever-passionate sophomore wing as much as anyone.

There was the opaque way Arizona handled his 19-game suspension, with the school refusing to even categorize why he was out and Trier later wondering why nobody looked into what it felt like to be him. Fans and media alike wondered for 19 games if he would return that game, the next game or the game after that.

Trier did return Jan. 19, having finally tested clean of a still-unnamed substance that trigged a positive PED test before the season.

That bisected Arizona\u2019s season. With Trier back, the Wildcats meshed well enough to tie for the Pac-12 regular-season title and win the Pac-12 Tournament before they dropped out midway through a preferential NCAA Tournament path to a home state Final Four appearance.

Arizona was 17-2 without Trier, and 15-3 with him.

Bisected.

Maybe better with him. Maybe not. Or maybe about the same.

Whatever the case, Arizona\u2019s best moments this season undisputedly did happen with Trier on the floor.

In Trier\u2019s first game after he was cleared, the Wildcats picked up what was arguably their biggest win of the season, a 96-85 win at UCLA. Back then, Arizona had probably its best chemistry and offensive rhythm of the season, dishing 15 assists, shooting 50 percent from the field and making 9 of 20 3-pointers.

During a five-game midseason stretch that included the UCLA game, UA averaged 16.6 assists and shot 45 percent from the 3-point range. Over their last four games, the Wildcats averaged 10.8 assists and shot 32 percent from 3-point range, including seven 3s out of a season-high 27 long-range attempts against Xavier.

While Trier\u2019s contributions gradually grew to where he became a starter after five games and then UA\u2019s leading scorer, averaging 22.1 points and 60.4 percent 3-point shooting from Feb. 16 to the Pac-12 Tournament final on March 11, some other pieces broke down.

Most notably, UA\u2019s expected NBA lottery pick, Lauri Markkanen, dropped from a 50.5 percent 3-point shooter through Jan. 29 to hitting just 14.2 percent over a four-week stretch from Feb. 4 to March 4.

Markkanen recovered in part by producing more offense and rebounding around the basket, even picking up the Pac-12 Player of the Week award on Feb. 20 for his play in a road sweep of Washington despite making just 1 of 6 3-pointers that weekend. Coach Sean Miller praised him for his expanded offensive game and an improving defense that prompted Miller to put Markkanen on dangerous Saint Mary\u2019s big man Jock Landale in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Markkanen, already an international junior star while playing for his native Finland last summer, acknowledged that his year at Arizona has helped round out his game. He is projected as the No. 8 NBA Draft pick in June by Draft Express.

\u201cI\u2019m trying to focus on different things, rebounding the ball, playing defense,\u201d Markkanen said during his shooting slump, later noting: \u201cI can\u2019t just rely on my jump shot. I can\u2019t be only around the basket.\u201d

But while Markkanen was an all-around offensive force in the Wildcats\u2019 Pac-12 Tournament run, he went just 3 for 9 from the field on Thursday and didn\u2019t take a single shot for the final 11 minutes.

Also developing down the stretch was the curious all-but-disappearance of Kobi Simmons. The McDonald\u2019s All-American and still-projected 2017 NBA Draft pick averaged just 6.1 minutes and 1.9 points in UA\u2019s final seven games.

It was difficult to read into what exactly happened. Miller said on Selection Sunday that Simmons\u2019 attitude \u201chas been incredible,\u201d while Simmons offered only limited words when asked during the NCAAs about his drastically limited role.

\u201cJust playing hard and doing my job,\u201d Simmons said, while reading his phone in his locker stall following a six-minute appearance against Saint Mary\u2019s.

Simmons declined to comment on whether he\u2019ll return or turn pro, but Draft Express pegs him as the No. 49 pick in this June\u2019s NBA Draft.

At the same time, the Wildcats had plenty of things go well after Trier returned.

While winning 11 of 12 games since their Feb. 4 blowout loss at Oregon, the Wildcats saw Chance Comanche carve out an important backup post role despite again having considerable talent, seniority and size ahead of him in the rotation. Kaleb Tarczewski and Ryan Anderson blocked his path in 2015-16, while it was Dusan Ristic and Markkanen starting ahead of him this season.

Nevertheless, Comanche averaged nearly starter\u2019s minutes (19.3) in Pac-12 play, and averaged 7.2 points and 3.6 rebounds while shooting 59.3 percent in conference games.

He used the competition in practice to help his production in games.

\u201cGuys on my team pushed me every day,\u201d Comanche said. \u201cThey made sure I was locked and focused and ready for whatever was going to be thrown at me or the team in general. Once I started doing that, it made me want to push myself and become that player everyone knows I\u2019m capable of being so I can help the team.\u201d

Arizona also rode the increasing leadership of Kadeem Allen all season, from his coast-to-coast game-winner on the first day of the season against Michigan State, through his exhausting high-minute efforts when the UA backcourt was shorthanded in nonconference play, through a broken pinkie that cost him two games in February.

Miller only wished his journey would have gone further.

\u201cThere\u2019s never been anybody \u2014 and we\u2019ve had some great players, great kids at Xavier and Arizona \u2014 who means more to me, that embodies the good in college basketball than Kadeem Allen,\u201d Miller said after the Xavier game. \u201cAnd that\u2019s always the hardest part, when you know that his time is up.\u201d

Allen returned the sentiment.

\u201cIt hurts to not put the jersey on again and play for coach Miller and with these guys,\u201d Allen said.

Miller gave an upbeat postgame address that reminded Allen and his teammates that they won 32 games and a Pac-12 championship.

When it was all done, Trier, too, called it a success.

Even if their road ended in San Jose, not Glendale.

\u201cWe had a great year, a tremendous year,\u201d Trier said. \u201cA year that will have a lot of memorabilia and history that will be in McKale, on the walls and in the locker room. It\u2019s just tough because we all had our sights on the Final Four.

\u201cThat was what we talked about and we believed it. We knew it was something we could do and then our journey kind of got cut short. We knew it wasn\u2019t going to be easy. We weren\u2019t going to walk there. Nobody was going to let us go to a Final Four just because it\u2019s in Phoenix. It doesn\u2019t work like that.\u201d

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SAN JOSE, Calif. \u2014 Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier have their theories about who is to blame for Arizona\u2019s surprising Sweet 16 exit, and neither mentioned Sean Miller.

Even if some outsiders did.

Within minutes of Arizona\u2019s 73-71 upset loss to Xavier in the NCAA West Region semifinal Thursday night, someone updated the postseason record on his Wikipedia page with this description for 2017: \u201cYou guessed it, not the Final Four.\u201d

By midday Friday, a simple Google news search for \u201cSean Miller\u201d revealed the following headlines:

\u201cSean Miller rightly blames himself for Arizona\u2019s loss to Xavier.\u201d (Arizona Republic)

\u201cSean Miller and Arizona come up short yet again after late collapse fueled by ill-advised shots.\u201d (Yahoo)

\u201cArizona coach Sean Miller can only blame himself for the Wildcats\u2019 Sweet 16 exit.\u201d (FoxSports.com)

\u201cHas Sean Miller been a success or failure at Arizona?\u201d (The Big Lead)

On talk radio and social media, the debate was even more polarizing. A national Fox Sports radio host even called for Miller\u2019s firing, while there was also plenty of support across multiple platforms for the eighth-year UA coach, who has landed six straight top-five recruiting classes while reviving a program wracked with instability during a two-year transition from Lute Olson.

\u201cMiller is really good,\u201d USA Today college sports writer Dan Wolken tweeted. \u201cHe will break through. Arizona fans would be wise not to go nuts at this stage. Run him off, you won\u2019t do better.\u201d

Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy posted a story Thursday night noting how UConn\u2019s Jim Calhoun was assailed for not making the Final Four in the 1990s before he won three titles starting in 1999, while writing that Gary Williams was \u201cragged mercilessly\u201d at Maryland before he made a Final Four after 23 years in 2001 and won a national championship in 2002. Then DeCourcy noted some coaches who had reached multiple Final Fours \u2014 Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams \u2014 who were criticized for not winning it all until they did.

Then there were the actual words from Miller, who said after the game that he was \u201cequally disappointed in myself.\u201d Miller said the UA lacked confidence against Xavier\u2019s zone defense \u2014 the Musketeers shifted skillfully between the 2-3 zone, 1-3-1 zone and man-to-man, as expected \u2014 and said the UA\u2019s offensive struggles bled over to the defense.

\u201cThe game never really felt good,\u201d he said. \u201cAnd that\u2019s on me.\u201d

Especially in the final four minutes, it went particularly wrong for the Wildcats. Arizona held a 69-61 lead with 3:44 left, but fell apart on both ends of the floor afterward. The Wildcats didn\u2019t score for the final 2:52, when Trier made a layup for a seven-point Arizona lead.

Here\u2019s what happened after that point:

That\u2019s five missed shots in the final 2:17, and none taken by the team\u2019s most accurate all-around shooter, Markkanen.

Trier, who had pumped in 15 straight UA points earlier in the half, had three missed shots and a turnover during that stretch.

\u201cIt happens,\u201d Trier said. \u201cI mean, I\u2019ve had a few go in and out. It was tough, especially the last one.\u201d

Trier blamed himself in a big-picture sense, saying he almost pushes himself to the point of being \u201cpsychotic\u201d about improving his game, and appeared puzzled when a Daily Wildcat reporter asked him what he thought about the questioning Miller was likely to receive.

\u201cUm, questioning a guy who had a 32-5 basketball team?\u201d Trier said. \u201cThey probably don\u2019t know much if they\u2019re questioning him from that standpoint. Coach did what he thought was best for us to put us in the best position to win the game, and we\u2019re going to go out there and try to execute as well as we can as a basketball team. So I totally have faith in my coach that he knows what he\u2019s doing, not somebody else who doesn\u2019t.\u201d

Alkins, meanwhile, didn\u2019t blame Miller or Trier or anybody for those last few minutes. To him, it was about allowing 52.8 percent shooting to Xavier and hitting only 25.9 percent from 3-point territory themselves (Alkins was 0 for 3 from 3-point range while shooting with a broken finger).

\u201cIt was a tie game and we had three chances to win,\u201d Alkins said. \u201cBut those three plays didn\u2019t cause us to lose the game. It was the whole game.\u201d

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SAN JOSE, Calif. \u2014

Nick the Greek\u2019s restaurant stays open till 3 a.m. in downtown San Jose. A few ticks before 2, my colleagues and I walked in, lined up behind assorted clubbers, boozers and wayward souls.

I never eat Greek food, but in the wee hours of Friday morning I had no other option and had to make a quick choice. I selected a Beefteki Pita with Tzatziki sauce.

It was Greek to me.

That\u2019s a newspaper guy\u2019s version of the finish to Arizona\u2019s Sweet 16 loss to Xavier. A few hours earlier, whatever Xavier did was Greek to Arizona.

In the final 2:17, with limited options, Arizona missed five consecutive shots and committed a turnover. Xavier\u2019s zone defense was like a great Sphinx to the Wildcats.

It was Tzatziki sauce.

Xavier coach Chris Mack successfully took away three of Arizona\u2019s strengths:

1. He slowed the pace to 61 possessions, which was the second-slowest of Arizona\u2019s season. His zone defense forced Arizona to shoot with an average of nine seconds left on the shot clock. The UA\u2019s season average was to get a shot with 14 seconds. Those five seconds led to a lot of rushed and forced shots Thursday.

2. Because Arizona lacked the proper movement, passing, spacing and imagination against Mack\u2019s zone, it was forced to shoot from the edge, attempting 27 3-pointers, a season high. Ordinarily, 3-point shots make up 24 percent of Arizona\u2019s shooting attempts. On Thursday it was 43 percent.

3. The Musketeers committed only 14 fouls, permitting Arizona to shoot a mere 11 free throws. Arizona made 221 more foul shots than opponents this year, and only once since December (a loss at Oregon) did the Wildcats shoot fewer foul shots than they did Thursday.

Remember when UA forward Kevin Parrom used to pledge \u201cno easy buckets?\u201d It turned on the Wildcats; on Thursday, Arizona got few easy buckets.

Mack, who succeeded Sean Miller at Xavier in 2009, coached the game of his life.

Beyond that, I think Arizona lost for three reasons not as easily tracked by metrics or the box score.

The first is that Lauri Markkanen did not attempt a shot in the final 11:12. That\u2019s because he was used in the role Kaleb Tarczewski played for Arizona. Markkanen became a high-post screener, rarely rotating to the corner, where he often gets lost by opposing defenses.

At halftime, Miller told CBS that \u201cwe\u2019ve got to be unselfish against this zone, move the ball and find Lauri.\u201d

No one found Lauri. He didn\u2019t attempt a foul shot in the second half, either, which is unfathomable. Against a shorter team like the Musketeers, you\u2019d expect him to spend the night at the foul line, the way he did against Saint Mary\u2019s (he was 9 for 10) and when he shot 19 foul shots in the Pac-12 Tournament.

But some of that is on Markkanen\u2019s transition to college basketball. He is learning to play the mid- to low-post and it\u2019s not easy against a zone that often found him trapped by three Musketeers. He does not go strong into the paint and use his size as an advantage. He doesn\u2019t demand the ball, instead keeping his arms low. He is probably too unselfish.

It was like having Mike Trout on your team and batting him eighth in the lineup.

Second, Allonzo Trier appeared to be gassed in the final three minutes. When he scored 15 consecutive points, expanding a 49-48 lead to 64-61, he probably emptied his tank.

Trier missed a quick 3-pointer from the baseline with 2:17 remaining \u2014 Arizona was leading 71-67 \u2014 a shot that could\u2019ve extinguished the Musketeers. As Xavier sped to the other end of the court in transition, Trier was a step late. When he finally got to the other end of the court, he reached over Malcolm Bernard and fouled him.

Those two foul shots made it 71-69 and it was a different game.

Trier played 19 minutes in the second half. Markkanen played the full 40 minutes; he averages 30. Inside the final two minutes, neither seemed to have his legs.

One more thing: the heartbeat of Arizona\u2019s team, senior Kadeem Allen, appeared to get chippy with Xavier\u2019s best player, Trevon Bluiett. Allen got two fouls in the game\u2019s first 2:30. It was a mano a mano showdown versus two Alpha males, and it was costly. Allen spent 15 minutes on the bench in the first half.

While he was out, Bluiett, with 18 first-half points \u2014 16 while Allen was on the bench \u2014 allowed his team to gather itself and build enough confidence to win the game.

Ultimately, Xavier won in the final 40 seconds when Mack drew up a play not to Bluiett nor the Musketeers\u2019 No. 2 option, J.P. Macura, but to junior center Sean O\u2019Mara. Arizona didn\u2019t seem to be expecting it.

O\u2019Mara caught a simple lob pass over Markkanen, 3 feet from the bucket. Help defense from Keanu Pinder and Rawle Alkins was about one second too late to prevent the game-winning basket.

Such is life in the NCAA Tournament.

In a game of just 61 possessions for each team, foul trouble, tired legs, the inability to get the ball to your tallest player and an unexpected lob pass can make a No. 11 seed come off as No. 1.

There are no second chances to get it right.

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SAN JOSE, Calif. \u2013 After the Arizona Wildcats ended their season short of the Final Four again, Allonzo Trier was asked what he thought about the questioning Sean Miller might receive ahead.

He seemed puzzled, even as somebody appeared to be\u00a0updating Sean Miller\u2019s postseason record on Wikipedia\u00a0at about the same time.

\u201cUm. Questioning a guy who had a 32-5 basketball team?\u201d Trier said. \u201cThey probably don\u2019t know much if they\u2019re questioning him from that standpoint. Coach did what he thought was best for us to put us in the best position to win the game, and we\u2019re going to go out there and try to execute as well as we can as a basketball team. I totally have faith in my coach that he\u2019s knows what he\u2019s doing, not somebody else who doesn\u2019t.\u201d

The Sporting News\u2019 Mike DeCourcy also offered some perspective about Miller\u2019s track record.

FWIW, my Twitter notifications in the immediate few hours after the game included a \"Fire Miller,\" \"his teams are predictable,\" \"team's intelligence level unacceptable,\" \"what's up with his poor timeout management\" and \"Miller will never reach a Final Four.\"


Miller actually put a lot of the blame on himself during his podium interviews after Thursday\u2019s game. Miller spoke of the Wildcats\u2019 inability to defend well, especially down the stretch, and their lack of confidence against the zone, and talked about his role in it all.

\u201cEqually disappointed in myself,\u201d Miller said. \u201cYou know, our team never really ever established great confidence against the zone. And I think in some ways that was the reason, defensively, that we weren\u2019t as good as we usually are, because the game never really felt good, and that\u2019s on me.

\u201cYour job when you get to this area, when you get to this level of college basketball, your best players have to be confident. We have to get them shots. I don\u2019t care what defense they\u2019re playing \u2013 1-3-1, 2-3, man-to-man \u2013 I don\u2019t feel we did that tonight. And that\u2019s the worst feeling you can have as a coach.\u201d


Here's the full podium comments from Miller, Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright. Xavier's are here.


Sounded like Miller had a pretty uplifting postgame locker room talk, with virtually all of the players repeating his reminder that they did, after all, win the Pac-12 Tournament and (tie for) the Pac-12 regular season title, while winning 32 games.

\u201cWe had a great year,\u201d Rawle Alkins said. \u201cWe had an historical year.\u201d

Lauri Markkanen sat looking downbeat but tried to keep that in mind, too.

\u201cWe went through a lot this year, so of course we have to think about all the good things we did,\u201d Markkanen said. \u201cIt\u2019s just sad the season ended so we can\u2019t go to Phoenix.\u201d

Allonzo Trier discussed that point at more length.

\u201cWe had a great year, a tremendous year,\u201d Trier said. \u201cA year that will have a lot of memorabilia and history that will be in McKale, on the walls and in the locker rom. It\u2019s just tough because we all had our sights on the Final Four.

\u201cThat was what we talked about and we believed it. We knew it was something we could do and then our journey kind of got cut short. We knew it wasn\u2019t going to be easy. We weren\u2019t going to walk there. Nobody was going to let us go to a Final Four just because it\u2019s in Phoenix. It doesn\u2019t work like that.\u201d


Markkanen and UA's other players who are considered potential early departures this spring all declined to comment on their plans or decision processes ahead. UA players are normally off-limits for the most part in the offseason so face immediate questioning after their last game.


Our full coverage is attached to this post as are the box score and final stats.

Thanks again for reading this season. The news isn't going to slow down for a while this spring, so please stick around ...

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SAN JOSE, Calif. \u2013 Given the best possible NCAA Tournament path to a home-state Final Four appearance, the Arizona Wildcats dropped the ball Thursday night.

Or, rather, couldn\u2019t shoot the ball well enough to keep from blowing an eight-point lead in the final four minutes.

Second-seeded Arizona was upset 73-71 by 11th-seeded Xavier in the West Regional semifinal on Thursday while allowing the Musketeers to shoot 52.8 percent and missing three key shots in the final minute that might have tied or won the game.

After Dusan Ristic missed a heavily contested 10-footer with 51 seconds left and Sean O\u2019Mara scored inside to give Xavier the final two-point lead with 22 seconds left, Kadeem Allen missed a 15-foot jumper and Allonzo Trier missed a three-pointer with eight seconds left at SAP Center.

Each of those shots was at least somewhat contested by Xavier\u2019s ever-changing defense, so it was the Wildcats\u2019 defense that stuck heavily in the mind of UA coach Sean Miller. Not only did the Wildcats struggle to defend the crafty Musketeers much of the game, but they most critically allowed 3-pointers by Trevon Bluiett and Malcolm Bernard in the final 3:25 that put Xavier back in the game.

\u201cWhen you have teams fighting to stay alive, you have to jump,\u201d Miller said. \u201cYou have to run at them. You have to close out with great effort. You have to make them miss.\u201d

They didn\u2019t. The Wildcats only missed their shots, surprisingly even getting the last miss from Trier, who was so hot in the middle of the second half that he scored 15 straight points after a cold first half.

But just getting the Wildcats in a position to take the eight-point lead, and maybe advance to the West Region final, wasn\u2019t enough for the hyper-competitive Trier. He was upset about the last miss, and the loss, and wasn\u2019t about to consider anything else.

\u201cWe just lost the game,\u201d Trier said. \u201cThere\u2019s no other way to put it.\u201d

The loss ended UA\u2019s season at 32-5, while Xavier moved to 24-13 and into a region final Saturday against Gonzaga for a spot in the Final Four. For the Musketeers, the win avenged their 68-60 loss to Arizona in the 2015 Sweet 16.

\u201cIt feels good just to be able to kind of get that revenge that we have been looking for,\u201d Bluiett said. \u201cAnd, two, just to make it to the Elite Eight. It\u2019s been a while since the program has done it. And just to get back there it\u2019s a surreal feeling.\u201d

It was only the third time Miller has ever lost to a lower seeded team in the NCAA Tournament, but the second straight year, after sixth-seeded Arizona was bounced by 11th-seeded Wichita State in the first round last season.

Bluiett led Xavier with 25 points on 9-for-17 shooting, scoring 18 of his points in the first half.

Trier finished with 19 points while Ristic had 17. Lauri Markkanen had nine points and eight rebounds but only took nine shots, many of which were closely guarded by Xavier\u2019s ever-changing defense.

\u201cThey played really well defensively,\u201d Markkanen said. \u201cI did not get a good shot. They\u2019re a really good team.\u201d

Arizona built its eight-point lead with 3:44 remaining but a 7-0 run pulled Xavier into a 71-71 tie entering the final minute. After Ristic missed his 10-footer with 51 seconds left, Bluiett had the ball at the top of the key \u2013 but instead of driving or popping a 3, he sharply passed under the basket to O\u2019Mara who made what became the game-winning layup.

\u201cFortunately, Sean was able to catch a great pass by Tre and put it in,\u201d Xavier coach Chris Mack said.

UA had trouble at times throughout the game. The Wildcats trailed by two points entering the final seven minutes, but went on a 12-0 run to take a 67-61 lead, getting 3-pointers from Trier and Kadeem Allen during the run. Two free throws from Parker Jackson-Cartwright gave UA its eight-point lead before Xavier made its stretch-run comeback.

After Arizona took a two-point halftime lead, Xavier had gone on a 7-0 run early in the second half. The Musketeers hit 6 of 8 shots immediately after halftime, prompting Miller to call a timeout with 15:22 left.

UA went on a 7-0 run to take a 52-48 lead, but with 13 minutes to go, Allen and Bluiett were called for offsetting technical fouls after they had an animated conversation.

After the technicals, Bernard hit a 3-pointer and Quentin Goodin dunked to put Xavier back ahead 53-52 entering the final 11 minutes.

At the end of the first half, Rawle Alkins hit a 12-foot jumper just before the halftime buzzer to give Arizona a 37-35 halftime lead.

Alkins, who was playing with a broken index finger, missed his first four shots of the half.

He said the finger didn\u2019t bother him throughout the half, and tried to be upbeat afterward.

\u201cWe had a great year, and it just takes one loss for everyone to forget what we did all year,\u201d Alkins said. \u201cWe won the Pac-12 championship, the Pac-12 Tournament, and 32-5. We had a historic year for the team.

\u201cOf course we wanted more. But overall, it was a good season.\u201d

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SAN JOSE \u2013 The Arizona Wildcats won\u2019t be making a home-state visit to the Final Four next week, after allowing Xavier to shoot 52.8 percent in a 73-71 loss in the West Region semifinal on Thursday at the SAP Center.

UA wing Allonzo Trier, who heated up for 15 straight Arizona points in the middle of the second half after a cold first half, missed a potential game-winning 3 with eight seconds left. Kadeem Allen also missed a jump shot with 22 seconds left.

The loss ended UA\u2019s season at 32-5, while 11th-seeded Xavier moved to 24-13 and into a West Region final game Saturday against Gonzaga for a spot in the Final Four.

It was only the third time UA coach Sean Miller has ever lost to a lower seeded team in the NCAA Tournament, but the second straight year, after sixth-seeded Arizona was bounced by 11th-seeded Wichita State in the first round last season.

Trevon Bluiett led Xavier with 25 points.

Trier finished with 19 points while Dusan Ristic had 17. Lauri Markkanen had nine points and eight rebounds but only took nine shots, many of which were closely guarded by Xavier's ever-changing defense.

Arizona held an eight-point lead with 1:53 remaining but a 7-0 run pulled Xavier into a 71-71 tie entering the final minute. Ristic missed a heavily guarded eight-footer with 51 seconds left and, when Bluiett had the ball with 40 seconds left, instead of shooting it, he passed under the basket to Sean O'Mara who made what became the game-winning basket.

Trailing by two points entering the final seven minutes, UA went on a 12-0 run to take a 67-61 lead, getting 3-pointers from Allonzo Trier and Kadeem Allen during the run. But 3-pointers from Trevon Bluiett and Malcolm Bernard cut the Wildcats\u2019 lead to four points and two free thrwos from Bernard later pulled Xavier within 71-69.

After Arizona took a two-point halftime lead, Xavier had gone on a 7-0 run early in the second half. The Musketeers hit 6 of 8 shots immediately after halftime, prompting UA coach Sean Miller to call a timeout with 15:22 left.

UA went on a 7-0 run to take a 52-48 lead, but with 13 minutes to go, Kadeem Allen and Bluiett were called for offsetting technical fouls after they had an animated conversation.

After the technicals, Malcolm Bernard hit a 3-pointer and Quentin Goodin dunked to put Xavier back ahead 53-52 entering the final 11 minutes.

At the end of the first half, Rawle Alkins hit a 12-foot jumper just before the halftime buzzer to give Arizona a 37-35 halftime lead.

Alkins, who was playing with a broken index finger, missed his first four shots of the half.

Trevon Bluiett scored 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting in the first half for Xavier but didn\u2019t have to often face UA\u2019s top defender, Kadeem Allen, who played just five minutes in the first half after picking up two early fouls.

The Wildcats allowed Xavier to shoot 50 percent from the field in the first half but outrebounded the Musketeers by six and gave up only three offensive rebounds. Xavier entered the game with the 29th best offensive rebounding percentage in Division I, grabbing an offensive rebound on 34.9 percent of its chances to do so.

It was the fourth straight game in which the UA defense has allowed an opponent to shoot 50 percent or better for a half.

Arizona struggled with perimeter shooting, making just 3 of 16 3-pointers. The Wildcats shot 41.2 percent overall.

After Xavier pulled into a one-point lead midway through the half, the game stayed within one possession the rest of the half. UA took a 27-25 lead entering the final four minutes when Chance Comanche dunked in a missed 3-pointer by Parker Jackson-Cartwright.

Bluiett had 16 points on 6-for-6 shooting to lead Xavier through the first 16 minutes. Arizona outrebounded Xavier 15-10 at that point and limited the Musketeers to just one offensive rebound.

Arizona went inside often early to Dusan Ristic as it has many times this season, building a 7-0 lead while Xavier missed its first three shots and had two turnovers in that stretch. Ristic finished the half with a team-high nine points while Lauri Markkanen had seven points and seven rebounds.

But Bluiett and RaShid Gaston helped Xavier take an 18-17 lead with 8:43 left. Bluiett hit a 3-pointer and a 15-footer during the drive, while Gaston made a three-point play and scored on a hook shot inside.

Through the first 12 minutes of the half, Xavier shot 53.3 percent from the field while Alkins and Allonzo Trier were both 0 for 3.

"}, {"id":"7b186a3f-fc22-56e1-879c-b3bcf97c4119","type":"article","starttime":"1490333400","starttime_iso8601":"2017-03-23T22:30:00-07:00","lastupdated":"1490344273","priority":39,"sections":[{"basketball":"sports/arizonawildcats/basketball"}],"flags":{"top_story":"true"},"application":"editorial","title":"Arizona Wildcats live, die by 3 in latest NCAA Tournament ouster","url":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/basketball/article_7b186a3f-fc22-56e1-879c-b3bcf97c4119.html","permalink":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/basketball/arizona-wildcats-live-die-by-in-latest-ncaa-tournament-ouster/article_7b186a3f-fc22-56e1-879c-b3bcf97c4119.html","canonical":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/basketball/arizona-wildcats-live-die-by-in-latest-ncaa-tournament-ouster/article_7b186a3f-fc22-56e1-879c-b3bcf97c4119.html","relatedAssetCounts":{"article":0,"audio":0,"image":1,"link":0,"vmix":0,"youtube":0,"gallery":0},"byline":"By Jon Gold\nArizona Daily Star","prologue":"SAN JOSE, Calif. \u2014 They say you live by the 3 and you die by the 3, and judging by the sunken, pale faces in the Arizona locker room in San Jose\u2019s SAP Center, it was clear which team\u2019s season died on Thursday night. And like a crane falling from above, the Wildcats never saw it coming. There are goals for the Arizona basketball program, and there are expectations, and there is a difference between the two, a difference so thin that the Wildcats could not see between the two after a 73-71 loss to the Xavier Musketeers in Thursday\u2019s Sweet 16 matchup.","supportsComments":true,"commentCount":0,"keywords":[],"internalKeywords":["#latest","#topread"],"customProperties":{"arm_id":"75134"},"presentation":"","images":[{"id":"882faec2-fd43-5ec7-b816-9a61a153bbd1","description":"Arizona Wildcats guard Allonzo Trier puts up Arizona\u2019s final shot attempt, a season-ending, failed three-pointer.","byline":"Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star","hireswidth":1174,"hiresheight":1764,"hiresurl":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/8/82/882faec2-fd43-5ec7-b816-9a61a153bbd1/58d4b41245e8b.hires.jpg","presentation":"","versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"506","height":"760","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/8/82/882faec2-fd43-5ec7-b816-9a61a153bbd1/58d4b4124429d.image.jpg?resize=506%2C760"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"150","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/8/82/882faec2-fd43-5ec7-b816-9a61a153bbd1/58d4b4124429d.image.jpg?resize=100%2C150"},"300": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"300","height":"451","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/8/82/882faec2-fd43-5ec7-b816-9a61a153bbd1/58d4b4124429d.image.jpg?resize=300%2C451"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"1539","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/8/82/882faec2-fd43-5ec7-b816-9a61a153bbd1/58d4b4124429d.image.jpg?resize=1024%2C1539"}}}],"revision":8,"commentID":"7b186a3f-fc22-56e1-879c-b3bcf97c4119","body":"

SAN JOSE, Calif. \u2014 They say you live by the 3 and you die by the 3, and judging by the sunken, pale faces in the Arizona locker room in San Jose\u2019s SAP Center, it was clear which team\u2019s season died on Thursday night.

And like a crane falling from above, the Wildcats never saw it coming.

There are goals for the Arizona basketball program, and there are expectations, and there is a difference between the two, a difference so thin that the Wildcats could not see between the two after a 73-71 loss to the Xavier Musketeers in Thursday\u2019s Sweet 16 matchup.

The goal was simple: Get Sean Miller to his first Final Four.

The expectations were that Xavier would but a blip on that journey. The latest, if anything.

Instead, Dusan Ristic sat in the Arizona locker room shaking his head, staring at a future he could not even fathom.

\u201cI never thought about this before,\u201d he said. \u201cGoing into this game, we had so much confidence in our team. We had five days to prepare for Xavier, and we did a good job. They just played better. That\u2019s it. I never thought this could be our last game. It feels really weird right now.\u201d

This was a spring monsoon in Tucson, a flash flood without a warning.

The players didn\u2019t have time to grab umbrellas.

Now they\u2019re left looking up at a Final Four just a bus-ride away, underneath a rain cloud that will take a while to dissipate.

A year after a first-round exit against Wichita State, they go home with unfulfilled dreams. Last year, they knew they were lacking. This year, they thought they had the goods.

\u201cI remember last year was awful too, and I don\u2019t remember how long the feeling lasts,\u201d Ristic said. \u201cIt\u2019s a terrible feeling, one of the worst in basketball.\u201d

Added guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright: \u201cIt\u2019s going to take a couple days, maybe a couple weeks. Last year, we had to watch the rest of the whole tournament. You get this far, and you have high expectations. We expected to survive. To come up short is extremely tough.\u201d

And that\u2019s what happened to so many of Arizona\u2019s outside shots on Thursday \u2014 they came up short. Arizona shot 7-for-27 from 3-point range, but the players defended their shot selection after the game. Allonzo Trier, whose last-gasp 3-point attempt rimmed out, believed he had good looks all night, even if he went 3-for-10 from behind the arc. Rawle Alkins, who managed just four points in 31 minutes, put the blame on everything, everything but Arizona\u2019s preparation.

\u201cUpsets happen all the time,\u201d he said. \u201cWe came in prepared. We didn\u2019t come in thinking they were an 11-seed and we can\u2019t lose.\u201d

Ultimately, the perennially under-seeded Musketeers proved that under Chris Mack and playing in the Big East, they deserve far better.

So did Arizona players on Thursday.

\u201cI don\u2019t have a sense for this,\u201d Ristic said. \u201cI can\u2019t imagine our season is done. When you play for a program like Arizona, you have the highest possible expectations and goals. And when you don\u2019t fulfill those goals, there\u2019s a funny feeling. You feel empty.\u201d

One locker room over, the Xavier locker room was filled with joy. Players who believed in themselves all year, but couldn\u2019t believe their fortune.

The Musketeers are still dancing.

\u201cThis is madness,\u201d Xavier center Sean O\u2019Hara said. \u201cOnce you\u2019re in this, you never know what\u2019s going to happen.\u201d

For one team, yes, it\u2019s March Madness.

For the other, March Sadness, and they just hope the rain cloud goes away before April.

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SAN JOSE, Calif. \u2014 The biggest star on Arizona\u2019s roster, a 7-footer with size and personality, Lauri Markkanen flew under the radar on a sullen Thursday night.

Arizona was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, and in all likelihood, it was the Finnish freshman\u2019s last game in an Arizona uniform. It shouldn\u2019t be a matter of if, only a matter of when he leaves for the NBA.

A 7-footer with a shot like that?

But Markkanen hid in the corner of Arizona\u2019s locker room, head down, silence all around, as the media stampede poured through the locker room doors. Markkanen positioned himself a few lockers to the right of Allonzo Trier, who missed Arizona\u2019s final shot attempt of the season.

Markkanen slumped into his chair, his legs practically tripping reporters angling to ask Trier about his late-game decision making.

This is a player who was declared a first-round pick before he ever stepped on the floor, and despite a late-season slump, scouts have been swooning for a big man with Markkanen\u2019s range of skills all season, cultivating in an all-around performance in a second round win against Saint Mary\u2019s.

So of course, the question had to be asked. It always is for Arizona\u2019s presumed one-and-done talents.

In so many words, \u2026 you gone?

In the last few years, Aaron Gordon, Stanley Johnson and Trier all said \u201cno comment.\u201d Trier came back, the other two did not.

\u201cI\u2019m not answering that,\u201d Markkanen said. \u201cI just need to take my mind off this right now.\u201d

He was asked the question four more times throughout Arizona\u2019s post-game availability, and always said the same thing.

Not right now.

\u201cI\u2019m not commenting on that,\u201d he said.

Markkanen attempted a 3-pointer at the 11:12 mark of the second half. It missed.

It was his last shot of the game, of the season, and probably, of his Arizona career.

He finished with nine points, and only scored two in the second half.

This is Arizona\u2019s best scorer, and Xavier wouldn\u2019t even let him get the ball.

\u201cOf course I was looking for the shot, but Xavier did a really good job taking my shot away,\u201d Markkanen said. \u201cI think my teammates were in better position to have the ball so I made the passes.\u201d

Markkanen has never been one to show frustration. He never wavered through a late-season slump, and he bounced back just in time for the postseason.

His teammates were frustrated for him.

\u201cOf course it was\u201d frustrating, center Dusan Ristic said. \u201cHe\u2019s one of our main weapons and they did a great job of defending him the last 10 minutes of the game.\u201d

Added Trier: \u201cWe got it to him one time in the post, we swing baseline and then he got under the basket where he couldn\u2019t shoot it so he had throw it far out. So he tried. Just, I guess, it was the way the game was working.\u201d

If this was his last game, it\u2019s not how Markkanen wanted it to go. But all he wanted to talk about after was his teammates. When Trier put his jersey over his face at the end of the game, Markkanen was one of the first teammates to greet him, to prod him up.

It was a bad ending, but not a bad season. Markkanen was an All-Conference selection, an All-Freshman selection and one of the best offensive performers of the Sean Miller era.

\u201cI\u2019m disappointed,\u201d Markkanen said. \u201cIt\u2019s sad that this ended right now. We had the chance to go a lot further but I\u2019m proud of these guys. They played their hearts out. That\u2019s sports.\u201d

As the locker room cleared out, Markkanen reached for his large, red, Nike shoes and put them in his drawstring Arizona backpack, his Arizona jersey crumpled on the floor next to an open Powerade bottle.

A spill would leave a stain.

The bottle didn\u2019t budge, Markkanen put the jersey in his bag, and leaned back in his chair.

For 30 seconds, he stared into space, listening to Trier talk about how he \u201cjust wants to be great.\u201d

The Xavier loss will be a stain on Markkanen\u2019s college resume.

But boy, was it a good resume.

\u201cThis time,\u201d he said, \u201cit didn\u2019t work out.\u201d

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SAN JOSE, Calif. \u2014

Arizona has been sent home by Sooie Pigs, Sooners, Shockers, Blue Devils, Badgers and Boilermakers, you name it, it all feels the same.

If feels like you\u2019ve been embalmed.

On Thursday night the Wildcats went slip-slidin\u2019 away, sent home by the Musketeers. The names don\u2019t seem to matter. Xavier. Wichita State. Purdue. To Arizona, unable to reach the Final Four for 16 years, it has become a Paul Simon song.

The nearer your destination, the more you\u2019re slip slidin\u2019 away.

By the time the Wildcats get to Phoenix it\u2019ll be 2018. It\u2019ll be in Tempe, not Glendale. It\u2019ll be too late.

Over the last 78 years, there have been more than 624 Sweet 16 games played in the NCAA Tournament. Of those 624 winners, none had more losses than Xavier did entering Thursday\u2019s game. Xavier was 23-13.

Let that sink in.

Arizona\u2019s last five possessions were almost chaotic. It shot 0-for-5. It was out of timeouts. It had non-shooting Keanu Pinder on the court. It lived and died with Allonzo Trier\u2019s free-lancing.

Arizona\u2019s basketball season expired at 9:57 p.m.

At exactly 10:13, Sean Miller climbed the stairs to a podium at the SAP Center and said that Xavier not only outplayed the Wildcats, but outsmarted them too.

He spoke the truth. His team was flummoxed by Xavier\u2019s zone defense, as had been an issue much of the year with any team from A to Z.

\u201cI\u2019m equally disappointed in myself,\u201d said Miller. \u201cOur team never did establish great confidence against the zone. The game never really felt good. That\u2019s on me. The job when you get to this level of college basketball \u2014 I don\u2019t care what defense they\u2019re playing \u2014 you have to get them shots, and I didn\u2019t feel like we did that tonight.

\u201cThat\u2019s the worst feeling you can have as a coach.\u201d

His former team, his former assistant, put a checkmate on Arizona that stopped it in its Nikes.

Xavier coach Chris Mack began his postgame comments with a bolt of perspective, saying \u201cany team that can get through the eye of the needle to get to the Elite Eight. \u2026 \u201d

He didn\u2019t need to say much more. Since 2001, Arizona has found the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament like trying to squeeze an elephant through the eye of a needle. It is a recurring nightmare for the Wildcats and their fans.

One year it\u2019s an inconceivable collapse against Illinois, another it\u2019s Wisconsin playing the game of its life, and on Thursday it was Arizona failing to score on its final five possessions.

It led 69-61. It lost 73-71.

Trier slumped onto the court at the SAP Center after his potential game-winning 3-point shot teased the rim, jigging in and out. It was SAP, all right. Sorrow. Agony. Pain.

Miller spoke of \u201cthe promised land\u201d and how that \u201cit\u2019s on me.\u201d And he spoke bravely about the journey, but it\u2019ll be a bit before anyone in Tucson wants to hear it.

\u201cIt\u2019s never easy when it ends, especially when you\u2019ve had a great team or a great season,\u201d said Miller. \u201cWe define our own success and if you\u2019re a team that is 32-5 and won both the Pac-12 regular season and Pac-12 Tournament and the journey ends in the Sweet 16, it\u2019s hard to look at that as not getting it done, or failure.\u201d

The words don\u2019t matter. Failure. Loss. It all adds up to an exit few saw coming, especially after punching out Oregon and UCLA at the Pac-12 tournament, teams with superior forces to the Musketeers, who, after all, were missing their most talented player, injured point guard Roland Sumner.

Xavier shot 53 percent from the field. Only Gonzaga shot better than that against Arizona this season.

Xavier\u2019s defense was so impenetrable that it forced Arizona to shoot 27 3-point shots, its most of the season and 11 more than its average.

Arizona is not a 3-point shooting team. Xavier turned the Wildcats into one, a bad one; the Wildcats missed 20 of them.

\u201c(Mack) had his way with us tonight,\u201d said Miller, who had a double-meaning message. Not only couldn\u2019t the Wildcats find a good shot, it kept giving Xavier too many.

\u201cWe could not guard them. We had as hard a time defending them as any team we played this season. We had no answers. They did a better job of that than I did.\u201d

The Musketeers ran the old-fashioned pick-and-roll that your eight-grade PE teacher taught. It gave Arizona fits. There were dunks and bunnies. At times it was like Route 66 the hoop, with no stop lights all the way across New Mexico.

And yet Arizona still had the last shot, an in-and-out 3-ball from Trier, that would\u2019ve won the game and made it all go away.

After a game like that, after examining Xavier\u2019s r\u00e9sum\u00e9, you wonder; how did the Musketeers lose 13 games? How did they lose six straight games from Feb. 15 to March 1? How did it get blown out by 25 at Villanova, 22 at Marquette, 15 at Baylor?

Why, in the year\u2019s most important game, did Arizona\u2019s defense turn to burnt toast?

Can you simply write it off to the Madness? It\u2019s not the first time Arizona exited a season that days earlier was primed, poised and gleamed with possibilities.

Now you wait. You slog through the weeks ahead asking yourself why Lauri Markkanen didn\u2019t get more touches, why Xavier was tougher than Oregon and UCLA, and will Arizona ever get through this long shutout from the Final Four.

"} ]