LAS VEGAS — Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood had hoped a football-basketball doubleheader would be like a neatly wrapped Christmas present for fans.
The first gift was a big lump of coal.
The UA basketball team, first up with a noon game against UNLV in front of a raucous 16,667 at Thomas & Mack Center, was shot out of the building. The Rebels won 79-64 and made 14 of 29 three-point shots.
“It was just raining threes,” said UA center Jordan Hill.
The loss came after the Wildcats’ best performance of the season, a 69-64 victory over Gonzaga in Phoenix. Given that, Saturday’s loss and poor defensive effort was especially disappointing.
Not to say the Wildcats won’t take this and learn from it, but Pennell said he is willing to at least partially chalk this one up to “there will be days like this.”
No need to panic. No need to start over. It was just a not-great day in front of a super crowd of 16,667 against a team favored to win the Mountain West Conference.
The Arizona fans — many who left early to get to the Las Vegas Bowl against BYU — made themselves heard early. But by the end it was the Wildcats who were serenaded with chants of “Reb-bels, Reb-bels.”
“You know what, when you’re playing a team of this caliber . . . on the road, in one of the better environments in the country, you’re certainly aware of what can happen,” said interim head coach Russ Pennell.
“We felt good coming in. We had a good week of practice. Even though, we were in finals, I felt we were more than ready to play. . . .
“I don’t feel it was as much as what we didn’t do as it was what they did well.”
UNLV’s Wink Adams won the battle of the little point guards, hitting 7 of 12 three-pointers en route to 25 points. UA’s Nic Wise had eight points and six turnovers.
The Gonzaga game notwithstanding, Arizona is not going to be a great defensive team. Pennell has said so, and schemes can only do so much. He said the Wildcats tried every defense they had, but the rotation to the outside shooters just came too late.
When the UA pressure did get in UNLV’s “air space” — to borrow a phrase from last year’s interim, Kevin O’Neill — the Rebels still drained some shots.
“A lot of those that Wink Adams shot, we had a hand in his face,” Pennell said. “That one with Chase draped all over him, there is no defense for that. That’s just a good basketball player making a play.”
And that’s about it.
This Arizona team isn’t good enough to be consistent. It’s not going to a Gonzaga repeat every game.
“Can’t win them all,” Hill said. “We just have to shake this game off and get ready for Kansas.”
The basketball team flew back to Tucson on Saturday night while the football team was playing BYU.
For UA fans, maybe that will be the gift that keeps on giving.