First loss allows No. 4 Arizona to stop pretending - The Explorer: Sports

First loss allows No. 4 Arizona to stop pretending

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Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013 4:15 pm

It had an inevitable feel leading up to the game, but also a familiar, uneasy look in the final minutes of another wild finish.

Fourth-ranked Arizona entered Thursday night's contest at Oregon's Matthew Knight Arena mere one-point favorites. That shows how much even Las Vegas was unsure of Sean Miller's 14-0 team.

Now, you can throw a 1 in the loss column - and it's really about time.

The Ducks prevailed, 70-66, but not without first trying to hand the Wildcats another can-you-believe-that victory. A 14-point second-half lead was cut to 3 inside the final minute, and Arizona looked poised to remain unbeaten and continue playing the but-we're-still-undefeated card amid another wave of criticism.

For most of the game, the 'Cats could not shoot, pass or defend well.

The drives to the basket were met by two, sometimes three Oregon jerseys. The Wildcats were jacking up 3-pointers in an offense that continued to struggle running any real plays. In what was arguably the team's best defensive effort of the night, 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski got away with a small nudge to the back of Tony Woods that carried the Oregon big man into his own driving teammate and resulted in a missed layup.

The bad vibes reached a point where Miller walked toward the court as a break in action was about to take place, but not before ESPN cameras caught the Arizona head coach mouth to one of his players to get the you-know-what off the court.

Arizona was unraveling.

Here are some numbers:

-The Ducks converted 7 of 11 3-pointers, driving UA's opponents up to 24 of 48 over the last three games. Dana Altman's squad entered the game ranked 10th in the Pac-12 Conference from beyond the arc at a 31.2 percent clip.

-Oregon picked up assists on 17 of its 25 made field goals and shot 48.1 percent.

-Arizona wasted an 11-0 cushion to start the game and instead found itself down by 11 - a 22-point swing the wrong direction - by the half.

Yet, there the Wildcats were - somehow - down by just three with 52 seconds to play. Look, if there is one thing we do know about this team, for sure - and it appears to be very little, at times - it's that Arizona will claw and scratch to hang around.

Mark Lyons hit a circus 3-pointer, Nick Johnson followed up with one of his own and then the sophomore chased down a long rebound, trailing just 69-66 with less than 20 seconds to play. Johnson, at times, looked like the last player who was going to bail out the 'Cats - but, of course, that's how these fairy tales are supposed to end, right?

Oregon was frazzled, the script was ready to be rewritten once again and columnists around the country were going to have to explain once more how the Wildcats are just a lucky bunch.

Here we go again.

Then, somebody finally stopped hitting the chaos button at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Johnathan Loyd stripped Johnson with 11 seconds to play and was fouled, split a pair of free throws, and Lyons' desperation 3 in search of contact and a miraculous four-point play opportunity were not going to lead SportsCenter. The Ducks were not going to join Florida and Colorado on the list of inexplicable late-game meltdowns against the Wildcats after dominating most of the contest.

The most flawed unbeaten team in the country had finally been dealt a loss. The stage is all yours, Duke and Michigan.

Maybe it was a bad omen from the lineup change Miller made, electing to start Kevin Parrom over Brandon Ashley - a regular in the starting five since the third game of the season. How silly does that sound?

About as silly as believing that a team with clear issues defending the 3 and executing in the halfcourt was supposed to be the fourth-best product in all of college basketball. By Monday, that ranking will change, too, and Arizona can finally stop playing the disrespect card that it forced in front of everyone's face.

Finally, the Wildcats can go back to just playing basketball without the unfair burden of chasing a meaningless, perfect regular season that was never going to happen.

Finally, Arizona will be given the chance to prove that its run was more than just dumb luck.

(Editor's Note: Tracy McDannald is the senior editor for GOAZCATS.com. Get all your Widlcats' sports news at www.goazcats.com)

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