Interim head coach Kevin O’Neill will offer no excuses.
Two games into the season and despite starting two sophomores, and a freshman, he won’t use youth as a reason No. 17 Arizona lost to Virginia, 75-72, at McKale Center on Saturday night.
“We didn’t execute and that’s my fault and that’s (his players’) fault,’’ said O’Neill, who took over while head coach Lute Olson is out tending to a personal problem.
Down, 75-72 in the final 20 seconds, Arizona (1-1) had its chances to tie the game in the final seconds, but failed to score. Even if the Wildcats had it would have been down by one in that all three attempts were two-point attempts.
“We said if we didn’t have a three right (away) then we’d get a quick two and foul,’’ O’Neill said. “But we waited too long.’’
And now, Arizona is continuing a trend it started last season when wins at home – once a guarantee – are tougher to come by. UA has lost five of its last seven at home.
Not since 1978 has the Arizona men’s basketball team lost in November at McKale Center.
Arizona will have a chance to regroup right away. It plays Missouri-Kansas City on Monday at McKale Center.
Virginia moves to 3-0, and in the process took the best-of-four series with Arizona, 3-1.
“Our program is building,’’ UVA coach Dave Leitao said. “We’ve tried to establish a solid foundation, and if we continue to learn, especially on the defensive end, we will continue to grow.’’
Arizona’s best chance at victory came with 20 seconds left. After a quick UA timeout, Virginia failed to inbound the ball, turning it over to UA.
But in UA’s attempt to inbound the ball in its half of the court, UA freshman Jerryd Bayless couldn’t handle the lob in bound pass at halfcourt from Jawann McClellan, eventually throwing the ball away in a desperate attempt to get it a teammate. Virginia’s Adrian Joseph intercepted the ball. Joseph was quickly fouled. He hit two free throws
to make it 75-72 with 20.5 seconds left.
“The last play comes down on me,’’ Bayless said. “I messed up and that determined the game.’’
Said O’Neill: “It’s inexcusable to not get the ball in bounds. We’re all responsible for that. We did not execute down the stretch.’’
O’Neill said the plan was to get the ball to sophomore Chase Budinger, but couldn’t.
“I’m very frustrated in myself for not trying to get the ball in the end – creating for myself,’’ Budinger said.
Budinger finished with 15 points. Bayless led UA with 21 points.
They couldn’t over shadow Virginia’s Sean Singletary, considered one of the best point guards in the country. Singletary finished with 24 points to lead the Cavaliers. Jeff Jones added 15 points, 12 coming in the first half. Virginia went 12 for 21 from the three-point line,
including 9 of 13 in the first half.
Singletary said he played with the flu.
“He was gassed (beat) five minutes into the game,’’ Leitao said. “He looked dizzy but didn’t let that deter him. He’s a big-time player, and he hit big time shots. He didn’t start out well, but went into attack mode in the second half.’’
It took two second half rallies for Arizona to get back into it, only to see it lose in the final seconds. UA was down 42-31 at half and 66-59 with 8:23 left in the game.
“The game was lost in the first half,’’ O’Neill said. “We talked for two days about getting in their air space (because) they are a great three-point shooting team.’’
Arizona got down early, falling 9-3 and later 15-6 in the first six minutes. UA couldn’t stop Virginia’s Jones from hitting from long distance. With 11:30 left in the opening half, Jones had four treys, helping UVA to an 18-13 lead.
UA stayed close behind Budinger, who had seven quick points including a big three-pointer with 11:22 left to make it 15-13.
UVA hit nine three-pointers in 13 attempts in the first half. UA didn’t help matters with 13 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. It had
just five total on Tuesday in a win over Northern Arizona.
“We were fortunate to be down only 11,’’ O’Neill said, of the 42-31 halftime deficit.
Down 42-31 at halftime, Arizona took its first lead of the second half at 49-48 with 14:11 left when Jawann McCellan found an open Chase Budinger for a fast-break dunk. UA freshman Jerryd Bayless followed it with a three-pointer to give UA its biggest lead of the half, 52-48.
But UVA retook the lead two minutes later on Calvin Baker’s 15-foot jumper, 55-54.
Arizona again rallied by holding Virginia scoreless for nearly six minutes, going from a 66-59 deficit to a 67-66 lead with 5:12 left.