UA’s NCAA hopes take big hit with loss to Sun Devils
LOS ANGELES – They played with no heart and seemingly no passion. Now comes the question: Will Arizona play in an NCAA Tournament for the 25th consecutive time?
“It’s just out of our hands,” UA interim coach Russ Pennell said after UA fell to Arizona State 68-56 in the Pac-10 Tournament. “We’ll be there just like everyone else sitting there on Sunday hoping for the best.”
“Right now you can take a piece of paper and pen and drive yourself crazy if you want to. At the end of the day, is our body of work good enough?”
ASU’s three-game sweep of the Wildcats this season may override any of the “good” – and it clearly puts a lot of doubt into the conversation about UA’s NCAA postseason.
Arizona’s now-retired coach Lute Olson sat about 15 rows behind the team Thursday at the Staples Center, watching the Cats’ chances for the NCAAs take a big hit. The selection show begins at 3 p.m. Sunday on CBS.
“We just have to sit back and wait,” UA’s Jordan Hill said. “We’ll keep working. We can’t worry about it. Keep working and keep our head up.”
UA’s Nic Wise said he’ll just wait to see what happens Sunday.
“The (NCAA) Tournament or NIT, no matter what, I think we will still be playing,” Wise said.
The Wildcats, who fell to 19-13 overall, must hope that other “bubble” teams lose to have any chance on Selection Sunday. Arizona State is 23-8 and will play Washington at 6 p.m. Friday.
The leader of the Arizona disappointments was junior Chase Budinger, who went 1 for 6 in the first half. He finished with eight points, going 3 for 15 from the floor.
The poor shooting was contagious. One of UA’s last shots – a futile attempt by freshman Kyle Fogg – didn’t hit the rim. Arizona went 9 for 35 in the second half enabling the Sun Devils to pull away.
“Shots weren’t falling that we usually hit,” Fogg said. “We played hard the whole game. They did pick up their intensity and hit big buckets.”
At one point, UA missed five consecutive shots on one possession before Budinger hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 58-48.
“It felt like that the whole game,” Budinger said. “We kept on trying to give it a fight. We tried to play our butts off on the defensive end and hoped that our shots would start falling. But they never did.”
Arizona State’s James Harden led all scorers with 27 points.
“For me it feels great, never losing to U of A in my career so far,” Harden said. “They had the upside for most of the years, so it just feels great and it is special to be part of that. They are a great team and a powerhouse. We are working to make this team a powerhouse as well.”
Arizona didn’t seem to be in it from the start, despite taking a 34-32 halftime lead on a put-back by Jamelle Horne with 58 seconds left.
“We fought hard but couldn’t come up with the win,” Hill said.
Harden scored eight points during a 14-5 run to start the second half, giving the Sun Devils a 46-39 lead, and a 3-pointer by Rihards Kuksiks and a dunk by Harden made it 60-48 with 5:13 remaining.
The Wildcats scored the next six points to draw within six, but ASU scored the game’s final six points from the foul line.
CBS may ask UA for permission to televise the players’ reactions to the selections on Sunday.
Arizona had not determined yet how it will handle Sunday’s announcement.
Through the years, UA has either had the head coach gather with the boosters for the announcement or the coach has been made available to speak to the media via teleconference call. Players haven’t been available to the media in more than a decade.
Whatever happens, Fogg said it will be “a long couple of days” of waiting.
ASU coach Herb Sendek thinks the Cats deserve a bid.
“(I’m) admittedly biased, but I think our league is as deep and as talented and as balanced as any in the country,” Sendek said. “Do I believe that Arizona is one of the top 65 teams in the country? I would say yes.
“You don’t need me to tell you that. The committee has a very difficult job.”
FIVE IN A ROW
ASU has beaten UA five straight times over the past two years:
Jan. 9, 2008: ASU 64, UA 59 (OT, in Tempe)
Feb. 10, 2008: ASU 59, UA 54 (in Tucson)
Jan. 21, 2009: ASU 53, UA 47 (in Tucson)
Feb. 22, 2009: ASU 70, UA 68 (in Tempe)
March 12, 2009: ASU 68, UA 56 (Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles)