ANAHEIM, Calif. — While the crowd and a nation of college basketball fans were on the edge of their seats as Arizona was awarded the final possession with three seconds left in Saturday night’s NCAA West Regional Championship game, the players on the court were trying to keep it together.
Junior guard Nick Johnson, Arizona’s leading scorer, who had the hot hand in the second half, got the ball with plenty of time left. But the Wisconsin defense was in its correct spots and forced him into one extra dribble and his shot didn’t get off in time.
"We were trying to get the ball in Nick’s hands and get him to the rim," said Arizona forward Aaron Gordon. "It was kind of a time of desperation. I bet you all five people on the (floor) were like, ‘Give me the ball, give me the ball.’ But it went to Nick and we’ve trusted him all year with that and I have no problem with that at all.
Head coach Sean Miller asked the team to keep things in perspective. He said it was just a game – there are greater tragedies than losing a basketball game.
"He said to be sad about this or overly sad about this, you just need to think about how great, you should be grateful about how good your life is now."
But for some, it’s not that simple.
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"It’s very emotional," said Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. "It’s the last time you play with this group of guys. You love these guys, you see them everyday, you practice everyday. You’re just happy to be around them in that presence and it means a lot and for it to end like this, itâs pretty tough."
Before the 2013-14 college basketball season even tipped off it was widely known that Gordon, Arizona’s freshman phenom, would declare for the NBA draft at the end of the season.
Gordon played his heart out Saturday night, only scoring eight points but scoring clutch points down the stretch and in overtime and muscling his way to 18 rebounds and two blocks. His skill set is extensive, his physical shape prime and his aptitude nearly as high as his ceiling.
But Gordon despises losing with every fiber of his being. Arizona may have a chance to do something special next season and when asked if he was set on the NBA following Saturday’s loss, he didn’t know yet quite yet.
"You know, I’m not sure," Gordon said. "I have a great foundation so I’m going to talk to a few people and see how that goes and then make an educated decision."
Duck and cover
Arizona boasts a good amount of Southern California prospects but for most, the earthquakes that have accompanied this week’s Regional are new.
TBS sideline reporter Craig Sager spent a good part of his day researching earthquakes and the historical significance in the area and as the ground continued to shake as people filtered into the Honda Center, all of the stories about their first quakes came out.
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"Ninteenth floor of the hotel. Because of the rollers these tall buildings are built on now, it swayed for another minute, two minutes," said Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "All of my players at (University of Wisconsin-Platteville) were engineers and I’ll call them and say, ‘How do they do this?’ "
He tried to crowdsource the question before realizing that sports reporters and geological engineers are not the same people.
The Badgers also came away with some new knowledge on earthquake safety, although it took a good 100 aftershocks for them to learn. While in the locker room after the game, the arena fire alarm went off and Duje Dukan half-jokingly yelled, "Earthquake! Everybody evacuate!.’ "
He was then informed that during an earthquake you should not evacuate, and he was safe where he was in a doorway, which was an answer that clearly puzzled him.
"I kind of like them," said his teammate Sam Dekker. "They’re kind of fun."