UA HOOPS

Arizona basketball: Runner-up complex

Avenging 2 defeats in Pac-12 final could boost Cats' seeding
2013-03-13T00:00:00Z 2014-08-01T11:28:13Z Arizona basketball: Runner-up complexBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

For memorable images in recent Pac-12 tournament history, it's hard to beat Isaiah Thomas's overtime buzzer-beater for Washington in the 2011 title game, or the four-game blitz that Colorado capped with a down-to-the-wire victory in 2012.

There's a trivia question in there somewhere, too, but Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller won't blame anybody who misses it.

Yes, it was the Wildcats who ended up the losers in both of those title games - by two points each time.

"When you don't win the final championship, it's like the Super Bowl," Miller said. "No one remembers who's in the Super Bowl except the winner. Conference tournaments are sometimes like that. It's hard to be standing like that back-to-back like we've been."

It's hard to stand there while Gus Johnson is screaming in viewers' ears, and Thomas and the rest of the Washington Huskies are donning those championship T-shirts and hats after the 77-75 victory.

It's hard to stand there when Colorado, somehow, manages enough energy to win four games in four days and take away what became Arizona's last hope to get in the NCAA tournament field with a 53-51 win.

"It was difficult," said Arizona forward Solomon Hill, who played key roles in both games. "We played great games and one or two mistakes led us to being down and trying to fight back. In the Washington game, Isaiah Thomas made two great plays.

"Colorado was a tough battle to the end and we have to stick it out. But I think that prepared our guys. Hopefully we can get back to that championship level."

Of course, as Hill indicated, the Wildcats can't count on even getting a chance to win a Pac-12 tournament final for the first time since 2002 until they win two potentially difficult games first.

On Thursday, Arizona will face the winner of today's Oregon State-Colorado game. The Buffaloes lost a controversial overtime game at McKale Center on Jan. 3 and pummeled the Wildcats in Boulder last month, while Oregon State has lost five straight games to Arizona but beat them three straight times earlier in Miller's tenure.

If the Wildcats win Thursday's game, they will face first-place UCLA, Stanford or ASU in Friday's semifinal.

But, maybe as much as any team in the field, the Wildcats have motivation, their past championship history being one of them.

Some others:

Showtime

Not only did the Pac-12 move its tournament to Las Vegas to attract more fans than it did at Los Angeles' Staples Center, but it also scheduled in plenty of glitz: Boyz II Men, Jersey Boys and Cirque du Soleil are among those expected to show up.

It is also the first time the MGM Grand Garden, known mostly for boxing, MMA and concerts, will host basketball games.

The Wildcats have a chance to be center stage for the first time at the splashy new site, where the Pac-12 has committed for a three-year stay and where Miller is firmly in support of staying.

"Las Vegas is such a destination city, and so many people enjoy going there, whether there's a sporting event going on or not," Miller said. "You combine this with having a competitive basketball tournament, and the first games ever played there … it's going to be exciting for years to come."

NCAA seeding and placement

Although the Wildcats are in no danger of missing the NCAA tournament, they are on the "bubble" of earning the preferential seeding and placement that are given to 1-4 seeds.

Arizona still has an RPI of 13 that would suggest a No. 4 seed, but it is 21st in the Sagarin power rating and 19th in the Kenpom ratings. Moreover, UA has not beaten a top-40 Sagarin team since Christmas, when it defeated San Diego State in the final of the Diamond Head Classic.

So this week gives the Wildcats a chance to show they have not declined since New Year's, as well as an opportunity to pick up some quality wins.

"I don't know about (seeding implications), but I do know the better we play in Vegas, the better it will help for the next tournament," Miller said. "In a lot of ways - not only in the seeding you get but also the momentum you have."

Redemption

The Wildcats were a game short of their stated goal of winning the Pac-12 regular season title - which they were also picked do to by the league's official media poll - but the tournament at least offers them a chance to celebrate something.

"It isn't as if we cut down the nets (last) weekend and everyone's congratulating us on winning the regular season," Miller said. "We didn't win the regular season. We finished in second place. Sometimes that team who has more to prove, that chip on our shoulders, gives us an advantage. Hopefully we have that going for us."

Hill said the Wildcats should definitely feel that way.

"We set our sights on winning the Pac-12 championship," the senior said. "We put ourselves in position, in the drivers seat, a couple of times and lost focus. This is a renewed opportunity to come in the Pac-12 Tournament and get a chance to really win it. It's kind of up for grabs."

On StarNet: Watch video of the this week's Arizona basketball news conference at azstarnet.com/video

Up Next

• What: Pac-12 tournament

• Who: Arizona vs. Colorado/Oregon State

• Where: Las Vegas

• When: 2:30 p.m. Thursday

• TV: Pac-12 Arizona

Contact reporter Bruce Pascoe at bpascoe@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @BrucePascoe.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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