Sloppy Wildcats done in by Ducks in regular-season finale
The last game of the regular season turned out to be perhaps the worst for third-ranked Arizona
The Wildcats — who, according to coach Sean Miller, just didn’t have "the juice" — were upset 64-57 on the road by Oregon on Saturday in a game in which they "errored too many times."
How the loss affects Arizona heading into the NCAA tournament in two weeks remains to be seen, although it’s still very likely the Wildcats will be a No. 1 seed, if not No. 1 overall. The Wildcats, the Pac-12’s regular-season champions, had already clinched the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament. They finished the regular season 28-3 overall and 15-3 in the Pac-12.
But Arizona must be more disciplined in terms of defending the 3-point line, especially given the offensive capabilities of some of the likely opponents in the upcoming tournaments. The Ducks went 10 of 19 from beyond the arc Saturday.
"When you’re as good as a defense as we are, although they scored 64 points and when you give up 10 3-pointers, it’s difficult to win the game," Miller said. "The teachable moment is there will be a team we will play in the future that has a similar type of team shooting the basketball. If they get 10 (3-pointers), it’s difficult to win."
Arizona simply couldn’t stop Oregon (22-8, 10-8) on the perimeter. That hasn’t been a problem for the Wildcats often this season, but their staple — defense — came apart in this one, seemingly never unpacking in Eugene.
The Ducks outplayed the Wildcats in the final 30 minutes, outscoring them 56-37 in that span and 14-7 in the game’s final five minutes.
Four made 3-pointers from the seven-minute mark to the two-minute mark gave Oregon just enough to pull even with and then overtake Arizona. The score was tied at 50 with 5:10 left.
"They went back-to-back 3s on plays where they knew we were coming," Miller said. "We knew who was shooting it and knew the importance of the close-out and making them a driver. We weren’t able to do that and (make) them a driver. And when (they) have the firepower to shoot it, you end up with a loss.
"Their 3-point shooting and our turnovers were a huge difference."
Arizona average under 11 turnovers and had just eight in Wednesday’s win but finished with 14 on Saturday, with those leading to 14 Oregon points.
"Fourteen turnovers for us are too many," Miller said. "When T.J. (McConnell) and Nick (Johnson) were in foul trouble in the first half, we struggled to catch and get open and do things that we’ve done better and need to do better moving forward."
Conversely, Arizona couldn’t find its shot from behind the 3-point line, going just 2 for 11.
Aaron Gordon led the Wildcats with a quiet 21 points and eight rebounds. Kaleb Tarczewski had 12 points and Johnson added 11.
Jason Calliste had 18 points for the Ducks, six coming late in the game to secure the win.
It was a miserable second half for Arizona, which went just 9 for 25 from the field over the final 20 minutes and looked out of sync offensively. The Cats went scoreless on five consecutive possessions as Oregon eventually took the lead, and they couldn’t stop the Ducks’ late flurry.
"They were hungry," Miller said. "They have an offense that is as good as it gets, especially with their ability to shoot."
Miller said Oregon "played hard and together." Arizona didn’t, as uncharacteristic as that was.
"We didn’t have the spark or the juice that we’ve had throughout the year," Miller said. "Some of it is at the very end, and (we’ve) been up here for five days. A lot of it had to do with Oregon."
Miller pointed to a stretch late in the first half when Arizona was up by seven but had three consecutive turnovers while seeing its lead cut to 31-29 at the break.
"We did better in the first half than we did in the second half," Miller said. "When we needed key second shots, we weren’t able to come up with them."