EUGENE, Ore. — Sean Miller met with the Arizona Wildcats during the day Saturday, and then took off. Maybe for good, maybe not.
But without the Arizona head coach and star guard Allonzo Trier, who sat out a second game with a PED-related suspension, the Wildcats actually put together some of their most determined and efficient offense of the season before losing 98-93 in overtime to Oregon for the second straight season in part because of a barrage of Duck 3-point shots.
Oregon made 14 of 33 3-pointers, having beaten UA 85-58 last season when they hit 16 3s, and they also capitalized on 17 UA turnovers by scoring 20 points off them while turning the ball over only four times themselves.
It was a loss, but considering the controversy that has enveloped the Arizona program in the previous 24 hours, associate head coach Lorenzo Romar found a particular spirit to it.
“I was really proud of our guys with the focus we came out with,” Romar said. “But we didn’t finish the job.”
Individually, this all applied no more so than to forward Deandre Ayton, who had 28 points and 18 rebounds but didn’t score in overtime and had only one rebound.
Ayton played 44 of the 45 available minutes, and Romar said Ayton may have tired in the overtime period after such a draining effort in regulation. Not only was there a possible fatigue factor but, of course, there was an environment Ayton had to deal with.
Miller was allegedly caught on a federal wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to Ayton, according to an ESPN report Friday, and Oregon fans booed him nearly every time he touched the ball. Students had signs referencing the “100 Grand” candy bar and a check payable to him, while some rubbed their thumbs and fingers together in a “pay up” sort of gesture.
If anything, all that made Ayton more determined. He wasn’t available for comment afterward — UA only allowed Romar and Parker Jackson-Cartwright to be interviewed — but PJC said he was impressed with Ayton’s composure.
“He handled it professionally,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “He really cares about his team. … he comes each day ready to work.”
All that said, Jackson-Cartwright said it was “tough” to be without Miller and Romar said the same during his interview.
“It’s very tough,” Romar said. “Our leader isn’t with us, so it’s tough. But I thought our guys were phenomenal in how they came out.”
Miller left Eugene before the game and did not travel back with the team’s charter flight, and Romar said he didn’t know how long he might keep coaching in Miller’s place. When asked if he would be interested in the UA job if Miller departs, Romar appeared surprised to be asked.
“You’re really asking me?” he said. “I’m not looking at it that way. Sean Miller is our basketball coach.”
Romar took over a team that now leads the Pac-12 by only a game in the loss column after USC beat Utah. The loss dropped Arizona to 22-7 overall and 12-4, while Oregon improved to 19-10 and 9-7.
The Ducks won it Saturday by scoring the first five points of the overtime period, getting a 3-pointer from Payton Pritchard and a layup from Troy Brown, and hanging on from there.
A dunk from UA’s Rawle Alkins generated a foul from Kenny Wooten under the basket, but Alkins was called for a technical foul after apparently jawing at Wooten. Oregon’s Troy Brown hit the two ensuing technical shots, while Alkins hit his free throw, putting the Ducks ahead 92-88.
A 3-pointer from Oregon’s MiKyle McIntosh with 1:07 left gave the Ducks a 95-88 lead, though a banked-in 3 from Alkins with six seconds left cut Oregon’s lead to just 96-93. But Elijah Brown hit two free throws with 2.9 seconds left for the final margin.
Arizona burst out of the gate in both halves in regulation. Ahead by 12 points early and by 43-37 at halftime, Arizona took a 53-40 lead three minutes into the second half by the time Jackson-Cartwright made a layup. But Oregon crept back and Troy Brown hit a 3 to pull them within 55-53 with 13:56 left and the Ducks later went on a 13-0 run to go ahead 68-64 on a 3-pointer from Pritchard with 7:24 left.
The Ducks held a two point lead heading into the final three minutes of regulation, but the Ducks went ahead by five on a 3-pointer from Paul White. Alkins then missed a pair of free throws with 2:12 left but Keanu Pinder made two on UA’s next possession, cutting Oregon’s lead to 81-78 entering the final two minutes.
Elijah Brown made a pair of free throws that were followed by a layup from Jackson-Cartwright that made it 83-80 and then Dylan Smith sank a 3-pointer to tie the game at 83 with 21 seconds left.
Oregon called a timeout before running a final play but Payton Pritchard missed a contested layup in the final seconds and UA’s Alkins grabbed the rebound before time expired, sending the game into overtime.
In the first half, Ayton led Arizona with 17 points and 11 rebounds to already post his 19th double-double of the season.
UA wound up shooting 56.3 percent but hit only 2 of 7 3-pointers. Oregon shot 40.0 percent but made 6 of 16 3-pointers, most during an early flurry.
Arizona raced to a 20-12 lead in the first five minutes by hitting its first six field goals and then making 9 of their first 12. But the Wildcats also allowed Oregon to hit five of its first six 3-pointers, some lightly guarded, and the Ducks never fell too far behind.
UA took leads of up to 12 points in the half but Oregon cut it to single digits in the final minutes.
Trier, who sat on the UA bench in street clothes, was sitting out a second game after testing positive again for a PED; UA is expected to request an appeal that could be heard next week.