BOULDER, Colo. – Arizona sophomore Dylan Smith has never experienced a basketball nightmare quite like this, but he knows how to get rid of it.
“We can go on a run in March,” Smith said after the Wildcats lost their seventh straight game Sunday, 67-60 to Colorado. “We can get the job done in March and in Vegas, everything, and people won’t even talk about that losing streak anymore.”
Well, they would, at least in reference to how Arizona somehow overcame its worst losing streak in 36 years to finish on a high note. Sort of like how UA’s 1997 championship team is often known for overcoming a fifth-place finish in the Pac-12.
But, how, possibly, can the Wildcats get to that point? Arizona has all but eliminated itself from NCAA Tournament at-large consideration, unless Brandon Williams suddenly pops up at 100 percent, the Wildcats win their five remaining regular-season games and then beat Washington and a couple of other teams in the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Wildcats have also virtually eliminated themselves from a first-round Pac-12 Tournament bye. With five games left to play, they are three games behind ASU and Utah, which are tied for third, meaning the UA will almost certainly have to win four Pac-12 Tournament games in order to get the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
And considering their current depth, which consisted of seven healthy players on Sunday at Colorado after Alex Barcello bruised a knee, such a run doesn’t appear terribly likely, either.
Unless you’re really optimistic.
“We’re not the only team in college basketball struggling, so anything could happen,” Smith said. “We can go on a run in March. We just got to stay the course, trust the process, keep working hard. Everybody in this locker room works hard every day, so we’ll be fine.”
That was the message UA coach Sean Miller appeared to be sending in the postgame locker room Sunday. Afterward, when speaking to reporters, Miller acknowledged the big picture of his team’s losing streak — “It’s no fun,” he said — but also credited them for wringing out of themselves what they could.
“You know, I really loved our guys’ attitude this week,” Miller said. “I felt we had some very good practices. It’s not easy in mid-February to practice, period, especially if you’re on a losing streak. … (And) on the heels of playing Utah, taking this mountain trip with an extra day in between, it challenges your team.
“But our guys were ready to play (at Colorado). We did not lose because of our effort or lack of concentration. We just simply ran out of gas. We just don’t have a large margin for error.”
Often full of disappointment any time one of his previous teams would give up shooting percentages in the mid-40s, Miller was asked about having a team that just gave up better than 50 percent in five of the Wildcats’ past six games.
He responded by saying the Wildcats gave great effort.
There just weren’t enough of them around to give that effort, the way he saw it.
“We’re really thin right now, just in terms of our overall depth,” Miller said. “I mean, look at a guy like Dylan Smith. He played as hard as he could. But you know, being in the role that he has, he can wear down and I wish I could help them a little bit more. But that’s part of it, learning how to play when you’re really fatigued and get to the finish line.”
Smith played 31 minutes in the high-altitude air at CU’s Events Center, scoring 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting while trying to help slow down Colorado guards McKinley Wright (14 points) and Shane Gatling (11).
Still, he left the building with his seventh straight loss.
Smith lost 12 games with UNC Asheville in 2015-16 but led that team to 22 wins and an NCAA Tournament berth. He sat out as a redshirt when the UA went 32-5 in 2016-17 and played a reserve role last season while the Wildcats went 27-8 and won the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles.
“I don’t think I’ve ever lost that many games back-to-back-to-back like that,” Smith said. “It’s hard to say what I really feel. But I feel confident we’ll go back and get the job done this week.”
- Four-star Los Angeles forward Terren Frank announced on Twitter that the Wildcats offered him a scholarship. A teammate of UA signee Christian Koloko at Sierra Canyon School, Frank also holds offers from USC, TCU, SDSU and Oregon State.
- Despite its two losses in the mountains over the weekend, Arizona fell only from 84 to 87 in NET ratings. The UA is rated 66 in Sagarin and 87 in Kenpom.
- Stanford center Josh Sharma was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week after averaging 19.0 points and 10.5 rebounds while shooting 85 percent during the Cardinal’s sweep of USC and UCLA.