Arizona’s 73-70 loss to Ohio State in the Sweet 16 Thursday night was the Wildcats’ season in microcosm.
The UA started strong then encountered a difficult stretch but never doubted its chances. The Wildcats scratched back to respectability but came up short. They did not lose because of a lack of effort but because of a defensive breakdown that left LaQuinton Ross open just long enough to drain a three-pointer to put the Buckeyes ahead with 2.1 seconds left.
Arizona started the season 14-0, struggled through must of the Pac-12 season, but never fell apart. They were a basket away from extending their game against UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals and against the Buckeyes at the Staples Center. Defense was one of Sean Miller’s concerns for most of the season. One defensive lapse in which freshman Grant Jerrett drifted to a double-team of Aaron Craft allowed Ross a chance to square up for the game-winning three-pointer.
“The last shot of the game, we switched probably 400 handoffs and ball screens in the game,” Miller said. “We didn’t switch the last one. That’s the other part. Players make big plays. Teams make big plays. The pressure of the moment, the Sweet Sixteen, going to the Elite Eight, two guys go on one.
“Whether he made the shot or not, I think we all live with it when it’s challenged and we do what we’re supposed to do. But part of the reason he had such a great look at the end there was two guys went with the ball, when, in reality, we’ve switched every single handoff and ball screen from the opening tip to that one right there.”