Sometimes the only space a good shooter needs is like looking through a peephole, and on Saturday Oregon’s Jason Calliste had his eye to the glass.
“If I see a little daylight, I’m letting it go,” he said. “I don’t need that much space.”
Each of Calliste’s four treys (and a three-point play) sent Arizona into space.
Bing. His three cut Arizona’s lead to 31-29 at half and altered the tenor and momentum of the game.
Bang. His three with 10:51 chopped Arizona’s lead to 44-42.
Bam. His three with 7:07 kept Arizona from pulling away, 48-45.
Boom. His bucket-and-a-foul shot with 4:22 left gave the Ducks their first lead, 53-51.
Bye-bye. His three with 3:43 was the green-and-yellow dagger, giving Oregon a 56-51 lead in what would be a 64-57 victory.
After the game, Sean Miller was unforgiving.
“If he shoots it, it’s your fault,” said Arizona’s coach. “You have to be responsible. We could’ve defended it better and we didn’t.”
Asked if he could write it off to some guy just feelin’ it, Miller shook his head.
If you finish the regular season 28-3, as Arizona did, you don’t buy into the he’s-just-in-the-zone theory. Even though the Ducks scored their fewest points of the year, you don’t want your lasting memory of a Pac-12 championship to be Jason Calliste punching you in the gut.
You’ve got to figure out why you lost, why Jason Calliste came off as Reggie Miller, and get it fixed before you play more meaningful games in the postseason.
“You’ve just gotta,” guard him more closely, said UA point guard T. J. McConnell. “There are no ifs, ands or buts.”
Calliste’s shooting display changed Knight Arena from what had been a library to a cooler and it put Arizona on ice. Whether it has a lasting effect is as uncertain as everything else in March basketball.
By the time Arizona reports for duty at the Pac-12 tournament, “it’s not about losing to Oregon,” said Miller, “it’s about being the No. 1 seed in the tournament.”
Look, the Ducks were going to beat just about anybody in college basketball on Saturday. Maybe everybody. Senior Day is one thing, but when you have a senior-laden team, on a six-game winning streak, inflamed with a sense of get-in-the-dance desperation — in front your only sellout crowd of the year — the margin for error is the size of a peephole.
“Today would’ve been a hard game for any team in the country,” said Miller. “We happened to be that team.”
You can twist the numbers to make whatever you want from them. The only UA opponent to make more three-pointers this season was Cal-Poly, which was 11 for 26 in the season opener.
Some guy named Kyle Odister swished seven treys against Arizona that day, someone gave him space to launch, but it didn’t matter because Cal-Poly is 10-18 and each possession didn’t have the importance of those on Saturday.
Miller called his final timeout with 2:32 remaining Saturday after Jonathan Loyd buzzed a three-pointer for a 59-51 lead. It was the only time all year Arizona knew it was beat until the final buzzer.
How’s that for context? For a good season?
In 31 games, Arizona had been impossible to put away until Cal’s Justin Cobbs and ASU’s Jordan Bachynski made winning plays in the game’s final ticks.
If you think the Wildcats were crushed by Saturday’s events, you would be wrong.
“We’re as motivated as we can be,” said junior guard Nick Johnson. “We’re trying to live up to the expectations of Arizona.”
The Wildcats could’ve posted their best regular-season record in history, edging past the 1987-88 club that was 28-2 entering the league tournament, and nudging ahead of the 2002-03 team that was 25-2 going to post-season.
But you can’t make history when you get outrebounded 22-14 in the second half, and when Kaleb Tarczewski gets the ball slapped out of his hands and taken away five times and when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson commits three turnovers his first 90 seconds on the court.
Maybe those negative variables don’t cost you a game at Utah or Oregon State, but they cost you on Senior Day at Oregon, against the league’s top-shooting team.
And you can’t expect to advance deep into March when you make just two three-pointers, as Arizona did, its fewest of a long season, ironically, tying its 2-for-11 night in a loss at Cal.
Arizona jumped to its 44-36 lead for precisely the reason it won the Pac-12 title: its defense was so good that it was making the Ducks settle for contested two-point shots late in the shot clock. The Ducks long to shoot the long ball — they’ve attempted 145 more than Arizona this year — but all of that changed in the final 12 minutes.
Calliste got loose. Arizona would lose.
The elevator to the team dressing rooms at Matthew Knight Arena includes a 12-point wall motto from Nike czar and Oregon benefactor Phil Knight, his credo for how to succeed.
Point No. 9 is “Prepare for Setbacks.’’
On Saturday, Arizona wasn’t prepared for a setback, but how it recovers from one is apt to determine how long it stays alive in the gathering madness.