Nick Johnson took four shots from behind the three-point arc Thursday night and made three of them. Unfortunately, the one he missed was the one the University of Arizona needed to beat Seattle Pacific University.
Johnson took his failed attempt as the clock ran out, unable to avoid the 69-68 upset.
The loss took a heavier toll on the team than usual because it opened the 2011-12 basketball season in the worst possible way. It was the first time the Cats had lost a pre-season exhibition game since 1984, which goes all the way back to the second year of the Lute Olson reign.
And the fact that Seattle Pacific is a Division II team didn’t help.
But that isn’t as bad as it sounds. The Falcons are an experienced squad that knocked off a couple of other Division I teams last year when they beat Washington and Nevada in exhibition games that started that season.
That point aside, the Wildcat team that was on the McKale Center floor against Seattle Pacific bore no resemblance to the one that was just a basket short of playing its way into the NCAA Final Four last season and finished the season as the No. 9-ranked team in the country.
Here are several clues as to what the game was like, in case you weren’t one of the 12,075 fans who showed up expecting something different from a team that just received a No. 16 national ranking in the AP pre-season poll:
Arizona… was out-rebounded 29-20. Their four bigs combined for just four rebounds.
Arizona… made just one of every three shots they took in the first half, as the Falcons held a comfortable double-digit lead throughout most of the half. Their nine turnovers also helped Pacific to a 37-29 lead at the half.
Arizona… trailed for all but seven minutes of a sloppily-played game.
Arizona… was ineffective at the free throw line, including two misses in the final minute that would have given the Cats the win.
Arizona… needs to work on a defense that allowed the Falcons to shoot with nearly 60 percent efficiency while building their first-half lead.
Johnson, the highly-recruited freshman who played two years of his prep career at Highland High School in Gilbert, did his share of the work. He had a team-high 18 points and hit back-to-back three-point shots down the stretch as the Cats tried to rally late. Solomon Hill added 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting, while contributing six rebounds.
Third-year head coach, Sean Miller, made a good point after the game when he said, “We’re just not a very good team right now.”
That’s pretty obvious. But a team that is laden with freshman talent needs to begin maturing quickly.
The Cats take on another Division II opponent on Tuesday. And this one won’t be a walk-over, either. Humboldt State University won their conference last season, the first under new head coach Steve Kinder, and finished the season with a No. 3 ranking. They’re ranked No. 21 nationally in the pre-season poll.
And the Lumberjacks have a tradition of winning ball games. They’ve made it to the NCAA D-II National Tournament 10 out of the last 11 years.
It’s not likely the Wildcats will let another one slip away. But the upset by Seattle Pacific was also considered by most to be a fantasy longshot.
Their win Thursday night was the first one in 34 games they’ve played against Pac-12 teams.
And that’s a really scary thought for the weekend before Halloween.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics/ Luke Adams)