LAS VEGAS – No. 1 seed or not, the Arizona Wildcats ran into an obstacle again Saturday that can keep them out of the Final Four.
Themselves. At the line. Where they were 6 for 16 in their 75-71 Pac-12 Tournament final loss to UCLA, their worst percentage (37.5) ever during the five seasons Sean Miller has coached them.
“We talk about this all the time,” Miller said. “Free throws win championships. To UCLA’s credit, they went 21 for 25. For us to overcome 21 of 25 when we’re 6 for 16 is tough.
“It wasn’t one player. It was a collective group. If we make more free throws today, we’re probably doing what they’re doing (UCLA was celebrating at the time).”
For forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, there was some simple math to consider.
“We make free throws, we win by five,” he said.
But junior guard T.J. McConnell tried to look at it differently.
“I think in some games, free throws have won us games,” he said. “It’s kind of a mental thing. I’m not worried about that. We’ve just gotta play hard like we do all the time and we’ll be fine.”
Miller said he would return to starting Gabe York in the Wildcats’ first game of the NCAA tournament, having started Hollis-Jefferson in order to better match up with the Bruins’ big backcourt.
“When you play them, you’re really in dire straits in a couple of scenarios,” Miller said. “Guys like Nick (Johnson), you want to keep them on someone like Jordan Adams. It’s tough to play T.J. on a 6-9 point guard (Kyle Anderson). I think UCLA has gotten better over time with that matchup. So the reason we did that was to have a bigger group out there for sure.
“Gabe York will start the next game. I think that’s probably our best bet.”
McConnell expressed more appreciation for the UA fans who filled between 60-70 percent of the Grand Garden during all three of the Wildcats’ games this week.
“We have the best fans in the country,” he said. “It was pretty much a home game for us all three games… (with) how loud they were cheering.”
While Anderson was named the Pac-12 Tournament MVP, Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson were named to the all-tournament team. The others named were Askia Booker of Colorado, Joseph Young of Oregon and Chasson Randle of Stanford.
Miller let it be known several times this season he wasn’t fond of having two full days between games of a road trip this season, which the Wildcats had during all four of their two-game conference road trips. That made it four to five days away from home.
“If you’ve been on trips with us, you come back and your kids have mustaches, your dog doesn’t know who you are -- I mean you’re gone forever,” he said last week.
But the only way that problem can be solved, the way Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott described it, is by chartering home after the first game of a long trip. During his pregame news conference at the Grand Garden on Saturday, Scott made it clear that tradeoffs are necessary to gain exposure and revenue out of the conference’s new media rights deals.
Since that revenue is flowing in, Scott said, he is hoping teams use some of it to return home via charter flight after a Wednesday road game.
“If you charter and come back, you could be away less than you would have been on a Thursday‑Saturday, Thursday‑Sunday scenario,” Scott said. “The idea is that as we have more resources, let's allocate some of them to support student‑athlete welfare, to support the academic objectives that we have and turn what could be looked at as a potential problem into an opportunity and get kids back to campus and class sooner than they would be if we were playing Thursday‑Saturday.”
However, Scott said the choice is up to each school. Arizona has started to charter almost everywhere in the past two seasons but has never returned home between games of a Pac-12 road trip.
Other notes from Scott’s news conference:
Even though the conference has tried to get each game on a separate window to maximize exposure, there are sometimes Pac-12 games shown at the same time on Fox and ESPN affliates, especially on Wednesdays.
“Sometimes it's unavoidable,” Scott said. “What we can control to a greater extent is when there are games on the Pac‑12 Networks. We can't control the overlap between ESPN and FOX. As much as we've tried to foster a harmonious relationship between the two of them, they have the flexibility to schedule games."
OSU coach Craig Robinson will coach a team of Pac-12 all-stars on a tour of China in August. Each school will nominate a player, Scott said, and Robinson will sort out whether he has the right pieces to form a team.
Washington will face Texas in China early in the 2015-16 season.
Here's the official box score.