Arizona’s experienced players dealt another losing hand in conference tourneyby Javier Morales on Mar. 15, 2013, under Sports
LAS VEGAS — From Atlantic City, N.J., to Las Vegas in one year, Arizona senior guard Mark Lyons knows what it’s like to be dealt the losing hand on the basketball court.
Lyons was part of Xavier’s team last season that lost to St. Bonaventure in the championship game of the Atlantic 10 tournament at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Lyons came up short with the Wildcats in a 66-64 loss to UCLA Friday night in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal game at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“I’ve been through this before,” said Lyons in a quiet Arizona locker room. “Last year at Xavier we lost to St. Bonaventure … It was a really close game, came down to one possession. Yeah, I’ve been here before. We just have to carry on.”
Forgive Lyons for his memory error — because of his transition from Xavier to Arizona and the difficult loss to the Bruins — but St. Bonaventure won 67-56 and never trailed against Xavier the entire second half.
The bottom line: Lyons knows the ebbs and flows of a season and how a team that loses in a conference tournament can make a run in the NCAA tournament. Xavier, which entered the 2012 NCAA tournament as a No. 10 seed, 21-12 overall, managed to advance to the Sweet 16 before losing to Baylor. The Musketeers advanced to the Sweet 16 twice with Lyons as a starting guard.
Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes have lost in the Pac-12 tournament championship game in 2011 and 2012. They did not advance to the NCAA tournament last year but were part of the Elite Eight run in 2011.
Evidenced by the sound of his voice, Lyons wants to get past his personal Sweet 16 barrier.
“I just want to get to that championship game, man,” Lyons said. “I want to see how that feels.”
Lyons’ backcourt mate, sophomore guard Nick Johnson, sat next to Lyons on the locker-room floor talking to reporters, barely audible with his responses. He was more angered by Arizona’s loss to UCLA than dejected. When Johnson stood, he tossed a shoe hard into a locker.
“I think we can be really dangerous and get a decent seed now with a chip on our shoulder,” Johnson said with a stern look. “We can defend and play as a team — two of things you are going to get from us on a nightly basis.”
Johnson locked down All-Pac-12 players Spencer Dinwiddie of Colorado and UCLA’s Larry Drew II in Arizona’s two games here. Dinwiddie made only 4 of 12 field-goal attempts against Johnson. Drew mustered only four assists in 37 minutes. He failed to make a field goal in five attempts.
Johnson’s defense is an accomplishment Arizona can hold on to within a difficult loss, one in which UCLA rallied from 11 points down with 10:24 remaining.
Each Jordan Adams basket during his personal 13-point run during the Bruins’ second half rally was reminiscent of how UCLA villains such as Reggie Miller, Derrick Martin, Jason Kapono and Kevin Love got the hot hand or made the big play to beat Arizona.
Johnson and Lyons each commented that Arizona can build on its accomplishments, within each game here against Colorado and UCLA, to build bigger ones ahead in the NCAA tournament.
A development aside from Johnson’s defense was the play of freshmen big men Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley. They combined for 29 points and 19 rebounds against UCLA. Tarczewski had a game-high 13 rebounds. Ashley led the Wildcats with 15 points. Jerrett made 3-of-4 field goal attempts.
Lyons has the most NCAA tournament experience of the Wildcats, playing seven games from 2010-12.
Johnson, Tarczewski, Ashley and Jerrett have never been part of March Madness. The Wildcats have not had this many important players who are inexperienced in the NCAA tournament since Lute Olson’s first few teams in 1984-85 and 1985-86 and Sean Miller’s second UA team in 2010-11 with Lamont “MoMo” Jones, Derrick Williams, Hill, Parrom and Mayes.
Miller was able to coach that group one game from the Final Four.
“I will just tell the young guys that every (NCAA tournament) game is a regular game, but just take it seriously,” said Lyons. “They gotta be more focused because there’s a lot of things going on. Just be ready to play.”