PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – The Arizona Wildcats didn’t just lose every game in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
They became Atlantis.
That is, lost.
Stumbling appropriately on the court considering the name of their Bahamian host resort, the second-ranked Wildcats completed a shocking trifecta of losses when Purdue (5-2) beat them 89-64 Friday in the seventh-place game of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Arizona (3-3) also lost to North Carolina State on Wednesday and to SMU on Thursday.
Having trouble with defense, 3-point shooting and rebounding all week, the Wildcats rolled them all into one during what was their biggest loss since Oregon tore them apart 85-58 last season in Eugene.
The defensively challenged Wildcats allowed Purdue to slice them up for open 3-pointers and cuts to the basket alike. Purdue shot 57.4 percent from the field and hit 11 of 22 3-pointers while also outrebounding Arizona 37-27.
Offensively, Arizona shot 42.4 percent from the field but managed to make only 3 of 17 3-pointers, thus spoiling yet another strong performance from local countryman Deandre Ayton, who had 22 points and eight rebounds to just miss a sixth double-double in as many games as a collegian.
Ayton and UA coach Sean Miller, who appeared together at a pregame news conference, both nodded to the competition they faced in the event.
“The teams just gave us their best shot,” Ayton said.
Arizona’s oh-fer in the Bahamas marked the first time the Wildcats have lost three consecutive games since Miller’s first season of 2009-10, when the program was still coping from effects of a messy transition from Lute Olson.
“I don’t really have any excuses,” Miller said. “It was like a staircase. … SMU was one step above N.C. State — no disrespect to N.C. State — and I think Purdue is one step ahead of SMU. It’s amazing that we played them in the losers bracket on the third day but Purdue is a very good team.”
However, the Wildcats did get a spark of life from freshman Brandon Randolph, who scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half, when the game was all but over. Randolph shot 7 for 11 from the field.
Arizona wing Allonzo Trier had by far his worst game of the season, after playing spectacularly at McKale Center in the Wildcats’ first three games. He scored 20 or more over his first five games, but had just eight points on 3-for-10 shooting on Friday and turned the ball over four times.
“Deandre was a tough cover,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “But I thought we did a good job with Allonzo Trier, to try to bottle him up and keep him out of the paint.”
The trio of losses are highly unusual for a second-ranked team, which Arizona became when the AP Top 25 poll was released last Monday. Louisville lost three in a row during the 1986-87 season in the Great Alaska Shootout, then fell out of the poll and went unranked the rest of the season.
Of the Wildcats’ strings of three straight losses under Miller in 2009-10, they lost to Vanderbilt, UNLV and Oklahoma in nonconference play that season and also lost to Oregon State, ASU and Cal in consecutive Pac-10 games.
When reminded of that history, and whether losing three straight eats away at him, Miller said:
“Hey, look, I want to win,” Miller said. “We have to make it so we don’t lose four.”
Purdue had also run into trouble at Atlantis, losing to Tennessee in overtime on Wednesday and then Western Kentucky on Thursday but the Boilermakers showed a consistent determination throughout Friday’s game.
“Absolutely, pride was one of” the motivations, said Purdue guard Dakota Mathias, who had 17 points. “You’re out there to win. They’re the No. 2 team in the country so to have that fall in our lap was a great opportunity.”
Down 50-33 at halftime, the Wildcats continued their defensive struggles early in the second half. Purdue took leads of up to 20 points through the first eight minutes of the second half, shooting 58.3 percent overall through that period.
But Randolph scored 10 points through the first 12 minutes of the second half to put the Wildcats back in the game, hitting two straight jumpers to cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 71-59 with 7:57 left.
Randolph didn’t start the second half, but played 11 of the first 12 minutes when he did get in.
In the first half, Purdue repeatedly worked through the Wildcats with their screens, going outside for open 3s and getting easily to the basket on some others. Purdue hit 7 of 11 3-pointers in the first half and shot 53.6 percent overall.
The breakdown of UA’s ball-screen defense was unusual for a team—and coach — who take pride in defense.
“We have lot of young players and we have a lot of guys older maybe who aren’t playing the role they need to do,” Miller said of the UA defense. “And this team (Purdue), they’re organized, they’re hard to guard.”
The Wildcats shot 41.4 percent overall in the first half but made just 1 of 8 3-pointers, a shot made by the 7-foot-1 Ayton.
Miller had stuck Emmanuel Akot back in the Wildcats’ starting lineup after he turned to sophomore Dylan Smith for UA’s first two Battle 4 Atlantis games this week. Akot played nine minutes in the first half, but missed all three shots he took and had one turnover.
Arizona may get Rawle Alkins back from a broken foot soon to plug into that small forward spot, but Miller cautioned that won’t necessarily fix all that ails the Wildcats.
What they do have in their favor, however, is time.
The NCAA Tournament is still more than three months away, assuming the Wildcats can find their way there somehow.
“It’s very early,” Miller said. “We’ve had teams (that succeeded early) and those teams went into January or February and looked like the wheels came off. Right now it’s different because we lost three games in a row and nobody saw it coming. We have to get off the mat and move forward.”