Another long Arizona basketball streak born in the Lute Olson era went down Saturday, and as a result, the really big streak could follow a month from now.
The Wildcats lost to Oregon State at McKale Center for the first time in 27 years, 63-55 on Saturday, putting their chances of a 26th straight NCAA tournament berth back in serious jeopardy.
At 13-12 overall and 7-6 in the Pac-10, Arizona likely will need to either win all five of its remaining regular-season games or have a successful run in the Pac-10 Tournament to have an argument for an NCAA bid. The Wildcats would not be assured of a bid in almost any case unless they actually win the conference tournament and its accompanying automatic bid.
Of course, quarter-century streaks were hardly on UA coach Sean Miller's mind after the game, since he's been all about week-to-week improvement and building a strong long-term foundation.
Another thought was occurring to him about that time frame. And it was making him sick.
"For me, I've been a coach, I guess 18 years - played five with a redshirt year - so that's 23 years of college basketball," he said. "And this is the rock bottom for me. I've never felt this way after a loss. Your job as a coach and staff is to really connect with your team, and we had a couple of players honestly who just really gave a poor effort and that's what we have to address this week as we move forward."
Much later, after dissecting the Wildcats' failure to stop Oregon State's backdoor cuts or solve its zone defenses, Miller added more: "I don't think I've ever been more disappointed about a team as I am today."
Miller had seen these kinds of UA efforts before: Things such as poor shooting, defensive lapses and the inability to compensate when guard Nic Wise has an off game. But Miller hadn't seen them lately, and that's what hurt the most.
This was not the early- season anymore. This was a team that had grown up, mostly building momentum since a 30-point blowout loss to BYU on Dec. 28, a team that won four straight games to put itself back in the NCAA tournament picture.
And then it was this.
"This is kind of who we were in November and December," Miller said.
While the Wildcats rallied from two 10-point deficits early in the second half to tie the game at 37 with 10:07 to go, getting nine straight points, that was precisely what bothered Miller the most.
Kyle Fogg hit a three-pointer, MoMo Jones and Kevin Parrom scored on layups, and the Wildcats were starting to look like they have a lot in the past month.
Then their strong effort disappeared.
"When we made our run in the second half, it seemed like we had really turned it up," Miller said. "To me, we were playing like you should play the whole game."
Ironically, the one guy who far exceeded expectations Saturday was the same guy who had slipped well under them for the previous four games: forward Jamelle Horne, who had his second double-double of the season with 15 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
And while Parrom tied his season high of 10 points and grabbed four rebounds, that wasn't enough either.
Not when Wise is going 1 for 11 from the field, with 1-for-8 three-point shooting, and matching his two assists with two turnovers.
"Nic needed some guys to step up," Miller said. "It clearly wasn't a good performance from him.
"What was he? One for 11? I know he doesn't feel good about that. It was just one of those nights. A lot of his shots were good ones, some of the ones he's made, he didn't make them tonight."
Wise was not available in UA's post-game interview session, but Jones said the blame needed to be spread throughout the squad.
"He didn't necessarily play a good game, but we all didn't play a good game," Jones said.
Oregon State, which improved to 11-13 and 5-7 with the regular-season sweep of the Wildcats, came out with a stifling 2-3 zone defense and an array of backdoor cuts that sliced Arizona apart in both halves.
The Wildcats failed to get the ball inside - center Derrick Williams took just two field goals in the first half - and tied their season-low for points in a half while trailing 26-20 at halftime.
The Beavers then took leads of 10 twice early in the second half and, after UA came back to tie the game at 37 on a layup from Parrom, the Beavers went on a 13-3 run and held on from there.
"I attribute that to toughness even more than execution," OSU coach Craig Robinson said of the Beavers' finish. "Our guys took their punches and stayed tough."
While Miller raved about the Beavers' precise offensive execution and effective defense, which used 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones, Parrom found it wasn't about X's and O's as much as just plain heart.
"I just felt they came out and played hard on us from start to finish," Parrom said. "I just think they wanted it more than us."
The game was a stunning turnaround for OSU, which lost at ASU on Thursday while shooting 24.6 percent from the field, while it left UA wondering where its momentum went.
The Wildcats still have a chance to make up for it, with second-place ASU coming to McKale Center next Sunday and a game at first-place California on Feb. 25.
But even though it's only a month away, the NCAA tournament may have never looked further away for the Wildcats.
If they look at all.
"I've really tried to stay away from it," Miller said of postseason talk. "I don't look at our team as being able to handle that. It's more about just working hard every day and being consistent, recognizing that anybody can beat us. We don't have a large margin for error."
On StarNet: See more photos from the UA's game against Oregon State at azstarnet.com/gallery
• Who: ASU at Arizona
• When: 3:30 p.m., Feb. 21
• TV: FSAZ