PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Possibly to avoid that sleepy, bloated feeling from a heavy Thanksgiving dinner, the Arizona Wildcats simply haven’t eaten those celebratory meals when playing on turkey day during the last two years.
That didn’t help much Thursday. Except for stars Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier, who combined for another 39 points, the Wildcats looked out of sorts at times and, well, greasy-fingered in a 66-60 loss to SMU.
The Wildcats coughed up 20 turnovers, allowed SMU to collect 20 offensive rebounds and hit just 5 of 20 3-pointers in the loss to SMU.
All that negated the improved defense Arizona showed in holding SMU to 31.4 percent shooting.
“Their second shots realty hurt us,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “Tonight, 20 turnovers killed us.”
The loss dropped UA all the way to the seventh-place game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, where the Wildcats will face Purdue at 7:30 p.m. (Tucson time) Friday. Both Arizona (No. 2) and Purdue (No. 18) entered the event ranked in the AP Top 25 but have lost twice. The losses dropped UA to 3-2 while Purdue is 4-2.
“We’re not out of this yet,” Miller said. “Clearly there’s a lot on the line. I know like our program they have a lot on the line.”
On Thursday, Ayton had 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting and a career-high 15 rebounds to lead the Wildcats again in his home country, while Trier had 22 on 8-for-16 shooting.
But SMU scored 19 points off UA’s 20 turnovers, the last a pass from Parker Jackson-Cartwright that went directly into the hands of SMU guard Jarrey Foster with 1:31 left and all but sealed the win for the American Athletic Conference team.
The Mustangs made up for their shooting woes thanks to their offensive board work and UA’s turnovers.
“Couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” SMU Tim Jankovich said. “I’ve always said the best games you win are when you can’t get the ball in the basket but find a way to win anyway. … I saw some fighting cats out there and I loved it.”
SMU (5-1) will face Western Kentucky in the fifth-place game on Friday at 5 p.m. Both the fifth-place and seventh-place games will be streamed on the internet by ESPN3. The Hilltoppers beat Purdue 77-73 earlier Thursday evening.
“Given what they’ve done here, they must be really, really good,” Jankovich said.
After holding on to a 31-30 halftime lead, the Wildcats let SMU quickly build a 51-40 lead early in the second half, with the Mustangs shooting 55.9 percent overall and hitting 3 of 4 3-pointers over the first 4:31 of the second half.
But Trier and Ayton made up for all of it themselves, with Arizona then going on a 13-0 run with Trier scoring seven points and Ayton the other six. The run could have been even greater had UA guard Alex Barcello not turned the ball over twice during the stretch.
The game stayed close the rest of the way, though SMU pulled away with a seven-point lead with 1:07 left and hung on from there.
Ben Emelogu led SMU with 20 points and five rebounds, while Shake Milton had 14 points and seven rebounds.
SMU took 70 shots to UA’s 47, in part because of UA’s turnovers and SMU’s offensive rebounds.
“We took 23 more shots than they did and that’s huge,” Emelogu said.
While completing his fifth double-double in as many games as a collegian, Ayton slammed in a number of emphatic dunks for a team that needed a spark. He is believed to be the only UA freshman to start his career with five straight double-doubles, according to UA.
After a shocking loss to North Carolina State in the Battle 4 Atlantis quarterfinals, Arizona shored up its defense in the first half but the Wildcats captured only a 31-30 halftime lead. Arizona had an early 10-point lead before its turnover issues surfaced; by the end of the half, nine UA turnovers became 12 SMU points.
Trier led UA in scoring in the first half with nine points while Emelogu had 14. Ayton had just five points and three rebounds after 20 minutes
Having suffered an upset loss Wednesday to North Carolina State that dropped them into the consolation bracket, the Wildcats still came out with motivation to start the game. They held the Mustangs scoreless for the first 3:14 and held leads of up to 10 points in the first six minutes.
But SMU made it a close game thanks to the heroics of Emelogu, who scored his 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting, while making 3 of 5 3-pointers.
For the second straight game, Miller started Dylan Smith at small forward in place of Emmanuel Akot.