With a top seed in the NCAA tournament likely already in hand, Arizona was knocked off in its regular-season finale by a more desperate team.
Coach Sean Miller hopes a similar scenario doesn’t play out in the same fashion for his fourth-ranked Wildcats in the Pac-12 tournament.
Arizona looks to bounce back Thursday in a quarterfinal matchup with Utah, which is trying to bolster its candidacy for an at-large bid.
The Wildcats (28-3) put together a dominant regular season, finishing three games ahead of UCLA en route to their 13th Pac-12/Pac-10 crown. Nick Johnson was named the conference player of the year, while Aaron Gordon earned freshman of the year honors. Miller, in his fifth season at Arizona, won the league’s coach of the year award for the second time.
But with the top seed in the Pac-12 tournament already wrapped up, the Wildcats ended their regular season with a 64-57 loss at Oregon on Saturday. The Ducks’ NCAA tournament hopes were likely still in doubt before ending Arizona’s five-game winning streak.
"They were highly motivated," Miller said. "With that, we had to play at our best and we didn’t."
Miller’s group will run into a similar challenge Thursday in Las Vegas against eighth-seeded Utah (21-10).
The Utes advanced with a 67-61 win over Washington on Wednesday, fueled by a strong first half in which they held the Huskies to 7-of-26 shooting. Delon Wright finished with 15 points and hit 9 of 11 free-throw attempts.
With an RPI of 83 as of Monday, Utah would likely need at least a run to the championship game to legitimately assert itself as a candidate for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.
Coach Larry Krystkowiak’s team is 1-3 against ranked opponents, knocking off then-No. 25 UCLA on Jan. 18. The Utes have won seven of 10, including three victories over potential tournament teams in Arizona State, Colorado and California.
Despite being seeded 10th last year, they knocked off seventh-seeded Southern California and No. 2 seed California on the way to a semifinal appearance. Utah will again assume the role of underdog Thursday.
"There will be a lot of anticipation for it, and here we are, as we have been in the previous games against them, the underdog," Krystkowiak said after Wednesday’s victory. "So I like that element. I don’t have nearly the nervous feeling that I maybe had leading into this game, and hopefully our guys are feeling the same thing."
The Utes have lost nine straight to Arizona since a 76-51 win to reach the 1998 Final Four, though they came close in a 67-63 overtime home defeat Feb. 19. Utah claimed a 37-31 rebounding edge over the Wildcats, who are among the nation’s top rebounding teams. The Utes averaged a minus-0.9 margin per game in conference play while Arizona was plus-5.2.
They outscored the Wildcats 30-21 in the second half but were 1 for 4 from the field in overtime and 5 for 9 from the free-throw line.
Gordon played a season-low 20 minutes due to foul trouble and was disqualified with 8:41 left in regulation. His three points and five turnovers were season worsts, however he’s averaging 16.8 points in five games since while shooting 54.2 percent.
Gordon was just 3 of 13 with 10 points in a 65-56 win over Utah in Tucson on Jan. 26, though he also grabbed 12 rebounds.
The winner will meet fourth-seeded Cal or No. 5 seed Colorado in the semifinals Friday.