HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Arizona Wildcat basketball - between a rock and hard place in Boulder

2013-02-15T00:00:00Z 2013-02-15T09:56:17Z Greg Hansen: Arizona Wildcat basketball - between a rock and hard place in BoulderGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

BOULDER, Colo. — OK, sure, it snowed Thursday night. And then it snowballed. And, finally, the Arizona Wildcats were engulfed in a basketball fireball.

It was one of those wrong-place, wrong-time scenarios. I mean, when the Wildcats walked onto the floor at Coors Events Center, an hour before tipoff, the scoreboard already said:

Colorado 3, Arizona 0.

I asked Sean Miller if any team in the country could have beaten the Buffaloes on Thursday.

"It would've been hard," he said.

The Buffaloes and their fans sorely wanted a piece of the No. 9 Wildcats; they wanted to bury a lingering hangover from that messy Jan. 3 loss in Tucson; they wanted to bury the Wildcats and make it hurt.

In the media room, Colorado coach Tad Boyle talked about his team being "physically, spiritually and mentally" ready. And you could throw in desperate, too.

"We receive everybody's best punch in the Pac-12," said UA senior Solomon Hill. "As a team, we just weren't there tonight. And that's a deadly formula for losing."

But it didn't have to be that way.

For 19 1/2 minutes, Arizona played about as hard and as purposely as it could. It shot poorly, which is beginning to be a disturbing trend, but the anatomy of Thursday's mugging, the decisive blows, required less than 60 seconds of playing time.

That's how quickly the Buffaloes turned the game and burned the Wildcats 71-58.

Arizona got the ball with 16 seconds left in the first half, trailing 30-23. Nick Johnson dribbled slowly, unopposed, to halfcourt. He dawdled a bit. He dawdled more. Suddenly six seconds remained. He almost lost the ball. Finally, in a cluster of bodies, Johnson catapulted an air ball from 25 feet.

The crowd roared.

To open the second half, Brandon Ashley, unaware of his surroundings, careless, had the ball taken from his grasp. In turn, he fouled Askia Booker, who was shooting a three-pointer. That's murder.

Suddenly it was 33-23, the entire game changed. Two possessions.

Miller called a timeout 60 seconds into the second half. He called another 65 seconds later. "I could've called about 10 timeouts," he said with a faux smile.

By then the fever had spread. Colorado would've beaten anybody at that time, Duke, for sure, Indiana, too.

"They were ready to go," said Miller. "It was electric."

A 10-point lead is too much of a pad to give a capable team like the Buffaloes, especially on a night overflowing with we-owe-you-one fever. You can't recover from that unless someone goes off, the way Cal's Allen Crabbe did at McKale Center on Saturday.

Alas, Arizona shot .423 from the field, which wasn't much of an improvement from Sunday's .393 against Cal.

It wasn't that the UA didn't match Colorado's intensity for the first 25 minutes. But at the same time you have to shoot well, especially on the road, and when you don't, you're done.

After a UA timeout with 7:53 remaining, as CU led 56-41, Hill and Kevin Parrom, Arizona's two senior leaders, had shot a combined 3 for 16 afield (and missed all seven three-point attempts).

That'll get you beat not only at Colorado, but at Utah and USC, too.

Miller, however, stressed that his team's defense (Colorado shot .591 in the second half), not its flawed shooting, was the bigger issue.

"Our defense has been what got us to this point," he said. "But in the last two games, we had a hard time getting stops. We've played against some of the best teams in the country and our defense held up. Tonight it didn't."

One thing Miller has discovered in his first two visits to Boulder is that the Buffaloes generate a game-day atmosphere that rivals what Stanford had at Maples Pavilion under Mike Montgomery, and what Oregon frequently fired up at old Mac Court.

It becomes even more challenging when you arrive in town disguised as a Very Large Target. It has always been that way for Arizona - it has been the Big Game of the Year in every Pac-12 precinct, from Pauley Pavilion to Wazzu's Friel Court for 25 years - and a game at Coors tests a visitor's manhood like few others.

The most significant difference between last month's much-debated game in Tucson and Thursday's setback in Boulder is that Arizona couldn't get to the foul line. In Tucson, Arizona shot 36 free throws. That covers up a lot of bricks.

But on Thursday, when the game was out of reach in the final eight minutes, Arizona had made five foul shots.

In the big scheme, Thursday's loss shouldn't linger or be costly in March. It wasn't any different than Duke getting scorched at Miami, Michigan falling apart at Michigan State, or Florida unraveling at Arkansas.

The season is renewable, but winning the Pac-12 regular-season championship now seems a bit unlikely.

Miller emphasized that he looks at Thursday's loss as one game in a long season, which is the only healthy way to react. When he was asked "where is your team at," he said, briefly, "20-4."

When the question was readmitted a moment later, with some different words, Miller looked at a reporter and said, plainly, "20-4."

And that's not going to change no matter how bad it looked Thursday.

Contact reporter Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On twitter @ghansen711.

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


AP Top 25


Free Wildcats Sports Newsletter

University of Arizona sports news and blog headlines, delivered daily

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Deals, offers & events

View more...

Lemonade Days of Summer Smoothies!

Flavors: The Pucker, The Squeeze, and The Crunch - for a limit…