ANAHEIM, Calif. - Thirty wins prove playing with fire, for the most part, worked out pretty well for the Arizona Wildcats.
But it also creates wounds that don't heal easily.
Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne missed three-pointers in the final eight seconds, and Arizona lost 65-63 to Connecticut in the West Region final, stopping their improbably fun season just outside Disneyland, short of the Final Four in Houston.
This was a team that, entering Saturday's game, had won 8 of 10 games decided by five points or less. This was a team that beat California in triple overtime when Williams fouled out in regulation, and it was a team that Williams saved with key plays at the end repeatedly. Williams not only saved the Wildcats in their first two NCAA tournament games but also provided perhaps the iconic moment of the season with his game-saving block against Washington during the Feb. 19 "White Out" game at McKale Center.
On Saturday at Honda Center, though, the magic was missing. The Wildcats did not come close to playing a best half of the season, as they did in a semifinal win over Duke two days earlier, and they did not quite get the superlative kind of performance from Williams that earned him the nickname "Superman" from respectful teammates.
"You can try to win games like that, and they're not always going to fall in your favor," Williams said. "Beside the Duke game, our last four or five games were within two points. We could have lost against Memphis. We could have lost against Texas. And we would have never been here."
But they won, beating Memphis 77-75 in their first tournament game behind Williams' game-saving block and beating Texas 70-69 with a three-point play by Williams before crushing Duke 93-77 on Thursday. So here they were, as close to the Final Four as you could get.
But this is what they had to deal with: Williams picking up three fouls midway through the first half, playing only seven of the first 20 minutes while UConn took a 32-25 halftime lead.
And defense that allowed not only UConn star Kemba Walker to get 20 points and seven assists but also freshman Jeremy Lamb to get 19 points, with a pair of dagger-type three-pointers in a game of runs.
So it wasn't enough. Arizona shot just 39.3 percent from the field and made only 4 of 21 three-pointers, occasionally pulling ahead in the second half but failing in the end when the final two three-pointers missed.
Williams tried his from the top of the key with eight seconds left, saying he wanted to allow time for an offensive rebound or a foul if Connecticut rebounded, and the Wildcats did rebound the ball. But then Horne missed from near the right corner with two seconds left.
Suddenly, the season, and likely the college careers for both players, was over. Williams is expected to leave for the NBA draft this spring, though he declined to talk about that possibility, while Horne is UA's lone senior.
"I'm just disappointed that last one didn't go down," Horne said. "That doesn't take away from our season. … It didn't work out. It doesn't always work out and it's unfortunate."
Horne said it was no consolation that it was him, basically, who put the Wildcats in position to pull out the win.
After a jump ball and possession arrow to Arizona, Horne hit a three-pointer with 1:01 left to cut UConn's lead to just 65-63 and, with 25 seconds left, Horne rebounded a missed UConn shot and UA called timeout to set up a final play.
UA coach Sean Miller said he set a stagger screen designed to free up Kyle Fogg for a game-winning three and when Fogg couldn't break free, there was Williams.
After all Williams has done for the Wildcats, leading them to the Pac-10 title and himself likely into the NBA draft lottery, Miller could hardly complain about that option.
"He's won about 15 games and … for him to have the ball in his hands from three in that situation is something we all can live with," Miller said.
Coincidentally, the miss also cost Williams the UA single-season three-point percentage record set by Steve Kerr in 1987-88. Williams finished at 56.8 percent, shy of Kerr's 57.3 mark, and if he had hit his final three, he would have been at 58.3 - although he'd have to stay above Kerr's mark in the Final Four to take the record.
After Fogg rebounded Williams' miss, Horne received the ball with a decent look for a three, and Miller said it would have been fitting for the senior, who signed for Lute Olson and played for three other coaches during his college career, to make it.
But it didn't happen and, well, the Wildcats knew they were fortunate in some respects to even have reached that point.
In the first half, they had allowed UConn to go on a 9-0 run once Williams sat down for the rest of the half with foul trouble.
UA shot 29.7 percent from the field and made only 1 of 11 three-pointers but out-rebounded UConn 25-19 in the first half. Nine Wildcats attempted three-pointers but only Williams made one.
In the second half, when Williams played 19 minutes, UA did nearly turn it around.
The Wildcats went on a 14-2 run that gave them a 55-52 lead with 6:36 left. But UConn came back with a 10-0 run, leading 62-55 after a dunk from Lamb with 3:08 left.
Later, with 1:47 to go, Fogg hit a three-pointer to cut Connecticut's lead to just 63-60 but Walker answered with an 18-footer to put the Huskies up by five.
After Solomon Hill and Walker tied up on a rebound, a jump ball was called and Arizona received it on the possession arrow. Horne then made his three-pointer and rebounded a missed UConn shot.
Then UA called timeout to set up a final play.
Two shots, two misses - from the team that, until Saturday, usually thrived in those kinds of situations.
"Losing in this tournament is hard," Miller said. "When you lose a game to go to the Final Four … it's a different feeling than if we were going to Houston right now. We had a shot to do it."