Arizona basketball caught in grips of uncertainty
Lorenzo Romar has no idea how long he’ll be in charge at Arizona.
The Wildcats played without embattled coach Sean Miller and lost 98-93 to Oregon in overtime Saturday night, ending a difficult day for the troubled program. Romar, the team’s associate head coach, filled in for Miller but wasn’t sure what’s next.
“We have to wait and see,” Romar said. “We dealt with it the way we dealt with it tonight, and tomorrow we’ll see what happens.”
Miller sat out a day after ESPN, citing anonymous sources, reported he was heard on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to current Wildcats freshman Deandre Ayton, who played against Oregon. Arizona also was without guard Allonzo Trier, who tested positive for the same banned substance that cost him 19 games last season.
“I believe it is in the best interest of our team that I not coach the game tonight,” Miller said in a statement. “I continue to fully support the university’s efforts to fully investigate this matter and am confident that I will be vindicated.”
The school did not specify why Miller didn’t coach against Oregon or if he will sit out any other games.
Arizona (22-7, 12-4 Pac-10) could have clinched a share of the conference title with a win on Saturday but instead heads home for the final two regular-season games against Stanford and California with a half-game lead over Southern California (12-9, 12-5).
Ayton had 28 points and 18 rebounds for Arizona in the loss but went scoreless over the final 11 minutes. Rawle Alkins added 24 points.
Parker Jackson-Cartwright scored 15 points, and the senior guard thought Ayton handled himself well.
“I think he’s handled it like a professional,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “I think the last 24 hours has been quite difficult for him, but he’s handled it like a professional, and it’s really good to see.”
Oregon (19-10, 9-7) used a stellar performance at the foul line and a balanced offense to pick up its second straight win. Elijah Brown scored 22 of his season-high 30 points after halftime. MiKyle McIntosh added 20 points, including a key 3-pointer with 1:02 left.
Alkins had a chance to pull Arizona within two in overtime, but his technical foul after a dunk allowed the Ducks to keep a four-point edge before McIntosh connected from long range.
Oregon coach Dana Altman said the Wildcats “came out mad” after they hit eight of their first 10 shots, held the Ducks without a rebound for the first eight minutes and led by 12 twice in the first half. Arizona was up 43-37 at the break.
“We weren’t ready for the physicality of the game,” said Altman, who declined to comment on Miller, a coach he’s known since their days as Missouri Valley Conference foes.
However, on the current state of the game, Altman said: “It is disappointing. It’s disappointing to all fans of college basketball.”
Arizona’s immediate future isn’t clear beyond its last two games of the regular season at McKale Center. The Wildcats can clinch a share of the Pac-12 title with one more win.
Oregon’s push for relevance in the postseason discussion got a boost with the win over the Wildcats, though the Ducks’ only route to the NCAA Tournament might rest with winning the conference tournament in Las Vegas next month. Oregon closes on the road against the Washington schools.
Arizona, the only Pac-12 team in the Top 25, fell from 14th to 19th in this week’s Associated Press rankings.
Ayton took breaking Oregon’s press into his own hands, driving from half court for his most impressive move of the night, a powerful two-handed jam over Kenny Wooten, the Pac-12’s best shot blocker.
HE SAID IT
Romar, new to Miller’s staff after 15 years as the head coach at Washington, was impressed by how well Ayton played on the road in front of a sellout crowd of 12,364. “Do you remember when you were 19? It’s not easy, man. Again, I thought he did a great job and handled it in a very mature fashion,” Romar said. “Deandre has a mother that is a rock. She is a rock. She does a great job of encouraging him, motivating him and keeping him grounded.”
Arizona: Hosts Stanford on Thursday night.
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