EUGENE, Ore. — All that stuff about Senior Day, fever-pitched fans and NCAA tournament aspirations was true of Oregon on Saturday.
The Ducks were, as UA coach Sean Miller said, desperate.
But this is also true: The Wildcats will face a lot more of that this week in the Pac-12 tournament.
The site will be neutral but the passion the Wildcats will see from either eighth-seeded Utah or ninth-seeded Washington in their first game Thursday could be equally intense.
Washington needs to win the Pac-12 tournament to get in the NCAA tournament, while Utah could have an argument for an at-large bid if it reaches the final, and both teams have given the Wildcats scares during the regular season.
Washington stayed close to UA until the final minutes of a Jan. 4 game at McKale Center, and has the same kind of dangerous three-point shooter (C.J. Wilcox) as the one Oregon sicced on the Wildcats (Jason Calliste) in Saturday’s game.
Other than Oregon, Utah might be as hot as any Pac-12 team at the moment, taking the Wildcats to overtime before losing Feb. 19 then winning three straight games before losing at Stanford by a point on Saturday.
Then, if UA wins its quarterfinal game the Wildcats could play a semifinal on Friday against either California or Colorado, two teams that slipped toward the NCAA tournament bubble near the end of a regular season and could use a signature win to guarantee their spot.
With a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed still likely, UA won’t have that kind of external motivation this week. But the Wildcats say they can still find plenty within themselves.
“We want to have an edge to ourselves and kind of a rhythm going into the tournament,” guard Nick Johnson said. “We need to get an edge back that we had on our winning streak. Everybody’s talking about us being a one seed and stuff like that. We gotta go to the Pac-12 tournament and go win that thing.”
Miller appeared to have jump-started the motivation during a long postgame session inside the Wildcats’ Matthew Knight Arena locker room Saturday. When he exited, he said he planned to give the Wildcats two days off, time to recover and sharpen their focus.
The memory of UA’s rebounding problems at both Oregon schools, and the 10 three-pointers Oregon hit on Saturday, may help their motivation, too.
“The way I look at it is, going into Vegas very focused coming off a loss I think is a really healthy thing,” Miller said. “If we would have won, sometimes what you start to do is take yourself for granted and what we’ve learned is if you don’t defend the three well and, against Oregon State if you don’t block out well, you’re vulnerable.
“All of those things we’ve done well so in a way I think this trip kind of reinforced that.”
It may have especially on Saturday, in what was the largest of three losing margins the Wildcats have suffered this season.
“When a team is playing for something like they were,” guard T.J. McConnell said of Oregon, “we’ve gotta be just as desperate to get a win and we didn’t. It cost us in the end.”