Four final thoughts on the tormenting end to Arizona’s basketball season:
1. Referee Tony Greene is a 55-year-old economic development executive from Stone Mountain, Ga. He has worked five national championship games, including the one last year. He is as good as it gets.
He mostly works the ACC; he’s called more than 100 Duke games since 1997. He also called two Florida-Kentucky games this year.
When he whistled a game-changing push foul on Arizona’s Nick Johnson with 3.2 seconds remaining in Saturday’s 64-63 overtime loss to Wisconsin, Greene was working the 1,169th game of his college career.
How’s this for a coincidence? The last time he worked an Arizona game was the 2003 Elite Eight, at the same Honda Center, when Kansas beat Arizona, 78-75, a game that came down to a final shot, a miss by Arizona’s Jason Gardner.
And how’s this for a further coincidence: Greene was the referee when eighth-seeded Wisconsin upset No. 1 seed Arizona at the 2000 Round of 32 in Salt Lake City. That’s crazy.
The story-lines sometimes repeat themselves as much as the referees do. Wisconsin won that 2000 game because Arizona center Loren Woods, an All-Pac-10 force inside, couldn’t play because of a back injury that required major surgery.
And now, 14 years later, the Badgers benefited greatly from the absence of injured Arizona power forward Brandon Ashley.
I admired Sean Miller for not using Ashley’s injury as an excuse; he never slipped and publicly bemoaned his fate since Ashley wrecked his foot Feb. 1. But I strongly suspected, on the inside, Miller and his assistants knew that ultimately Ashley’s absence would cost them the national title.
“We’ve never talked about Brandon being hurt,” Miller said Saturday night. “Brandon is a terrific player. We could have gone south or not achieve what we did. But we still were right here today. It’s not easy to deal with an injury on Feb. 1 like that.”
Final word on Tony Greene: On Sunday, I watch, re-watched, re-re-watched and re-re-re-watched his foul call on Johnson. Over and over. Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser played textbook defense, a clinic, and did not foul Johnson. But neither did Johnson foul Gasser.
Once the whistle blew, Johnson didn’t fully complete his drive/shot, so we’ll never know if he would have scored and won the game without the whistle.
2. Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky scored a school-record 43 points in the Badgers’ November victory over North Dakota. He is exactly the same height, 7 feet, as Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski, but they couldn’t be more different.
Kaminsky attempted 98 three-pointers this year; Zeus zero.
I can’t recall Arizona facing a more difficult defensive matchup since UCLA’s Kevin Love in 2008. He was pick-your-poison and then some.
Kaminsky’s performance might have been the single best opponent’s offensive outing against Arizona in 80 NCAA tournament games. In 2003, Kansas’ Kirk Hinrich scored 28 on the same floor, in the Elite Eight, making six threes. At the 1994 Final Four, Arkansas big man Corliss Williamson took Arizona apart, scoring 29 points in the paint.
And, then there was Utah’s Andre Miller, same floor, 1998 Elite Eight, who had a triple-double — 18 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists.
But right now I’m leaning to Kaminsky. Without him, the Badgers starters made a mere nine field goals.
3. You can’t accurately say Arizona didn’t rise to the occasion. UA guards Johnson, Gabe York and T.J. McConnell were 0 for 6 from the field in the game’s final six minutes (including overtime). They all had open looks that missed.
Somehow, whether pure luck or resourcefulness, Arizona made three of the most unlikely baskets possible, taking the game to the limit.
In heavy traffic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made a remarkable, fully-extended, put-back to the tie game at 54 on the UA’s last possession of regulation. In overtime, Aaron Gordon took an ill-advised three-pointer, down 57-54, when he was about two feet behind the three-point line. Swish. Gordon made only 16 threes all season.
And in overtime, desperate, down 64-61 after Johnson missed a bank shot, Jordin Mayes, of all people, bolted inside for the rebound and a put-back.
Wisconsin had shut down Arizona’s main offensive game. Somehow, the Wildcats scored seven of the most unlikely points of the season.
4. The most fitting word for the NCAA tournament isn’t madness. It’s fleeting.
I watched the official CBS video of the 2011 tournament – “One Shining Moment” — as Arizona reached the Elite Eight against UConn. Do you know how long it lasts? Three minutes and six seconds. That’s it. The entire tournament in 3:06. A Derrick Williams dunk against Duke and MoMo Jones pounding his chest.
You are here and gone in what seems to be a flash.
I watched the 2001 “One Shining Moment,” as Arizona lost to Duke in the Final Four, and it was recorded in 2:58. A big smile by Lute Olson, a three-point bucket by smiling Gardner, and then Michael Wright walking slowly from the court as the Dookies celebrated the national title.
What’s that, seven seconds, total?
In TV time, Arizona stayed at this year’s NCAA tournament for about five seconds.
Here’s another word that applies: Elusive.
One parting shot: I thought Oregon and UCLA were the two most talented teams Arizona played this year. San Diego State and Wisconsin were the two best teams. The Badgers are like Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Greg Maddux: working the corners, eliminating mistakes, winning.