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No go: Final possession adds to a season of ‘what ifs’ for the Wildcats

Kyle Fogg

Kyle Fogg led Arizona with 14 points, but the Cats made only eight baskets in the second half. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

The first 1,763 shots of Arizona’s season couldn’t determine if the Wildcats were worthy of the NCAA Tournament or not.

The 1,764th shot told the tale.

That was Kyle Fogg’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer of the Pac-12 tournament championship game against Colorado on Saturday. Win, and Arizona was in.

Lose … and, well, the NIT starts Tuesday.

That’s what the Cats are looking at now. The NIT. The National Invitation Tournament. Thirty-two teams. Higher seeds playing home games. Final Four in Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Wildcats could be looking at three more games in McKale.

Print out your bracket now. Organize an NIT pool. That’s what is left.

Fogg’s last-second shot against Colorado didn’t come close, leaving the Buffaloes as 53-51 winners, able to hang on despite scoring a mere three points in the final nine minutes, nine seconds. That last possession, which came after the Buffaloes propped the door open by missing two free throws, summarized a season-long problem for the Cats.

Oh, if they only had a go-to guy.

Said coach Sean Miller: “We called a play that would allow us to come off a ball screen, and that’s what it becomes: Make a play, get to the rim or kick.”

But the execution was lacking, and Fogg had to dribble outside the 3-point arc amid a trio of defenders until there was no time left for anything but a prayer.

“To have the ball in Kyle’s hands is something that’s been good for our team,” Miller said. “The last play didn’t win or lose the game. There were so many plays throughout the course of the game that hurt us.”

Specifically, the start of the second half hurt the Wildcats.

Colorado took a two-point halftime lead and turned it into a 12-point lead with 9:09 to go.

“It’s unfortunate we put ourselves in that position,” assistant coach James Whitford said on the postgame show on KCUB (1290-AM).

“I didn’t feel like we played like we knew how to play for 28 minutes. But when our backs were against the wall, as we have often done this year, we fought back and fought back really hard.

“If it had been a 41-minute game, I’m confident we’d be on that stage out there.”

Arizona won’t get the biggest stage now. The Cats didn’t make a 3-pointer in the second half. They grew impatient and flustered by Colorado’s half-court defense. The Wildcats had flurries of offense this season but no go-to guy to carry them through the toughest times.

“They were very good and we got frustrated,” Whitford said of Colorado’s defense.

“And our way of dealing with frustration was coming back individually and trying to hit jump shots. And when they don’t fall, that’s a hard way to live.”

The Wildcats aren’t done, but they will have to live with the “what if” games in a 23-11 season.

If only Arizona had won at Arizona State on the last day of the regular season.

If only Arizona hadn’t blown a seven-point lead with about six minutes to go at Florida, eventually losing in overtime.

If only Arizona hadn’t lost one-possession home games against Oregon and Washington.

Change one of those results, and the Cats might be in a different bracket on Sunday.

“In our opinion, we’re one of the top 68 teams,” Whitford said, “but we lost some games early in the year when we had a couple of opportunities to get marquee wins.”

The NCAA Tournament selection show starts at 3 p.m. Tucson time on CBS. The NIT selection show is at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.

“If we’re fortunate enough to be in that tournament and draw a home game, I want to fight and get these guys as far as we can,” Miller said in his postgame press conference.

“If that’s New York City in the Final Four of the NIT, great. But it has everything to do with trying to have a magical season to win as many games and compete for championships. I think we all know our next loss will be our last.”

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