LOS ANGELES – By the time Arizona returned to its hotel Wednesday evening after an 89-78 loss at USC, the Wildcats had enough time to root for ASU to beat UCLA… but that didn't work out thanks to UCLA's talented freshmen.
Tonight, in hopes of still at least sharing the Pac-12 title, the Wildcats can root for Oregon State to beat Oregon in Eugene, and it would also help them if Utah can win at Cal... but neither of those is likely to work, either.
“We have to hope somebody else loses," forward Kevin Parrom said. "I hate that feeling. I know everyone on the team hates that feeling. But we’re going to try to play harder and win these last two games.”
Entering today's game, UA sits in a loss-column tie with California for third place, with UCLA and Oregon each having one fewer loss.
Most likely, for UA to win a share of the conference title, the Wildcats will have to beat UCLA on Saturday, beat ASU in its regular-season finale and hope the Ducks drop one of two games on its Colorado-Utah swing next weekend.
That could put UA in a three- or even four-way tie at the top, though the Wildcats are not likely to win any tiebreakers involving Cal or Oregon because of their head-to-head losses to them.
All of which means, well, nothing to Sean Miller at this point.
“When you do what we just did, it’s not about trying to win a conference,” he said after the USC game. “It’s about trying to win a game.”
Of all the numbers that may tell the story of Nick Johnson’s recent slump, perhaps this one did it best Wednesday: Twenty three.
That’s how many minutes he played against USC, the fewest he’s played since the Wildcats rolled over the Trojans on Jan. 26 at McKale Center and hardly needed him.
This time he simply wasn’t that effective. Johnson had four points, three assists, three turnovers and three rebounds while the Trojans hit shots from virtually every position against a defense that Johnson usually leads.
Arguably the Wildcats’ MVP through the first half of the season, Johnson scored in double figures just once during the month of February (though he did suffer an illness on Feb. 2 at Washington State that initially dragged him down).
When asked how he thought Johnson was doing lately, this was Miller’s response:
“Not good,” Miller said. “We’re going to work hard to get Nick back playing well.”
Johnson entered Wednesday’s game averaging 32.6 minutes in Pac-12 games while being the key perimeter defender, a part-time point guard and a scorer. So I followed up by asking Miller if Johnson has been carrying too big a burden.
“I don’t know,” Miller said. “One thing we can do to help his fatigue is not play him as much.”
The Wildcats played a smattering of zone defense in the second half but the way Miller described it, doing so was more about desperation than strategy. Miller has consistently been a man-to-man coach.
“You invest to be good at things,” Miller said. “When you throw something out that you haven’t invested a lot in… we were just trying to see if we could just change the pace of the game. That wasn’t the answer.”
The 4,207 fans at the Galen Center made up probably the quietest crowd UA has played against since it beat East Tennessee State on Dec. 22 in Honolulu, but Miller did not cite that as an excuse.
“No,” Miller said. “We were playing today for the Pac-12 regular-season championship with three games left. Whether there’s one person or 15,000, it doesn’t matter.”
Miller gave seven players double-figure minutes, eight to Jordin Mayes (who hit his first three-pointer since Feb. 2) but only three each to Gabe York and Angelo Chol.
York and Chol apparently did not gain any more trust from Miller.
“We want them,” Miller said. “I think Gabe went for a shot fake and in that role that we’re counting on you, there’s dependability. Angelo’s gotta make layups, catch it with two hands.
“But it’s not just them. It was a team loss in every way, shape or form. Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill played well. On offense those guys showed up and without them, I don’t know where we would have been tonight.”
Here's the official box score.
Anyone interested in watching Utah and OSU tonight? It's an ESPNU doubleheader: Utah will play at Cal at 7 p.m., while OSU and Oregon will follow at 9 p.m.
As the Pac-12 schedule continues to stretch, those are the only Thursday games this week...