Well, it looks those who have been predicting just one Pac-10 representative will go to the Big Dance this year may be right, although hope isn’t dead yet for a second invite.
Unfortunately, that team probably won’t be from Arizona.
After ASU lost to UCLA, 70-61, and UofA was beat by Stanford, 75-69, in last night’s quarterfinal round of the Pac-10 tournament, they may both be headed to the NIT tournament. The Sun Devils (22-10) still hold a long-shot chance of getting an at-large bid, but the Wildcats (16-15) will have to just hope for even an NIT bid.
Washington, which was the pre-season favorite to win the conference, is still alive after beating Oregon State, 59-52. But they are the only team still standing that doesn’t call California home.
At 22-9, the Huskies are still on the bubble and, if they can pull off a win against Stanford, they might become the second Pac-10 team to make it to the NCAA Tournament. Of course, if they go all the way to the title game and beat California, it’s a done deal. And they’re on a roll, winning nine of the last 11 games before the tournament started.
But, back to the Arizona teams.
Neither put on a particularly impressive performance; both had to struggle to come from behind. ASU may have been a little over-confident since the Devils beat the Cardinal twice already, once by double digits, and allowed themselves to get into an early hole. The Devils had only one lead the entire game, and that was by one point early in the second half.
UofA also had to play catch-up for most of the game, but they just couldn’t contain the Bruins’ offense, allowing them to shoot over 50 percent from the field, as Michael Roll had a game-high 19 points and teammate Nikola Dragovic added 18 more.
The Cats also had trouble kicking their own offense into high gear. They shot just 40 percent, and one-in-five from behind the arc. Nic Wise led the way with 16 points and Derrick Williams had 14, but the biggest basket of the night might have been a jamming lay-up by Solomon Hill off his steal with 1:55 left. It brought the Cats to within five points and gave their desperate fans new hope. But that was as close as they would get.
The loss is just one more heartbreak the Cats fans have had to endure in recent years. This is the fourth year in a row they have been eliminated before even getting to the second round of the conference tournament. And the whole world has been watching to see if this would be the year UofA’s streak of 25 straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament would be broken. It has been.
The last couple of years, their record hasn’t been that great, either. But the national reputation that Lute Olson built and the strength of the Pac-10 has undoubtedly swayed the votes of the selection committee enough to get from the bubble to the Dance.
This year that won’t happen. In fact, there is no guarantee the Wildcats will even get an invite to the NIT Tournament.
Actually, because so many of the good teams of the past have had a rough year, the NIT field may have a little lustre. The Cats new head coach, Sean Miller, even pointed out after yesterday’s loss how they would welcome a bid. He told a reporter: “The NIT’s much different today than it was five years ago. It’s a terrific tournament.”
Do you think Lute Olson would ever have said that? (At least not out loud.)
In her column in today’s Republic, Paola Boivin had a great thought. She envisioned a Final Four in the NIT that could include Arizona, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Memphis.
Talk about a line-up of storied college basketball programs!
But out of that group, Arizona appears to have a much tougher road ahead to get back to the prominence it enjoyed under Olson.
Sean Miller has his work cut out for the next few years.