It’s been a disappointing weekend for Arizona college basketball fans.
All of a sudden, the window of opportunity slammed shut for the only Arizona teams left playing in the NCAA Tournament. In less than a 24-hour span, the last two remaining teams were handed their walking papers and have left Arizona fans without a representative at the Big Dance.
The University of Arizona men were eliminated Saturday by Wisconsin, just a step short of that elusive Final Four appearance that continues to frustrate head coach Sean Miller. He’s been to the Elite Eight four times now, three at Arizona, without punching his ticket to the Final Four. The Badgers have stood in his way the last two years.
And the night before, the Arizona State women were cut short by Florida State after making a fourth trip to the Sweet Sixteen under head coach Charli Turner Thorne, who just wrapped up her 18th season in charge of the Sun Devil program.
Both games were an exercise in frustration. The No. 4 nationally-ranked UofA men scored enough points in their 85-78 loss to the Badgers to win on most nights. Even more frustrating, they shot a sizzling 56 percent from the field and an even more impressive 93.3 percent from the free-throw line, held turnovers to just 10 over 40 minutes, and even took a slight edge in rebounding (22-21).
And they recovered after missing seven of their first eight shots to take a 33-30 lead at halftime.
But Wisconsin was deadly from behind the arc during the second half, connecting on 10 of 12 three-point attempts and the Wildcats couldn’t match that, despite having five players finish in double figures: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (17), Brandon Ashley (17), T.J. McConnell (14), Kaleb Tarczewski (11), and Gabe York (11).
The men, who finished the season 34-4, enjoyed the advantage of playing close to home at the Staples Center in L.A., while the ASU women traveled to North Carolina to play in the Greensboro regional. But their end to the season was perhaps even more frustrating than the UofA men’s.
After pulling off an amazing comeback from a second-half deficit of 16 points to beat University of Arkansas Little Rock in the second round, the No. 2-ranked and third-seeded Sun Devils advanced to the Sweet Sixteen to play No. 7 Florida State, which was the second seed in the regional.
That game went down to the wire before ASU gave up an opportunity for the win with a turnover in the final seconds of the game. The Sun Devils were 11 points down going into halftime, but a 22-11 run over the first 8:15 of the second half tied the score at 44-44. The Seminoles regained the lead and pulled away any time ASU caught up; the ‘Noles were four points up with just 23 seconds left.
A three-point basket by Elisha Davis cut the deficit to one point with six seconds left, but the 66-65 Florida State advantage would hold and the Devils’ tournament journey would end there. However, they put together perhaps the best season to date under Turner Thorne, closing out with a 29-6 record. Those 29 wins are the second-most in program history.
Redhshirt junior guard Katie Hempen led all scorers with 22 points and Sophie Brunner, the 6’1″ sophomore forward, contributed 11 points and eight rebounds.
But wait… there is still one Arizona college team playing. Just not in the NCAA Tournament.
The Northern Arizona men’s team will play in the semifinals of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT), making the most of the school’s best-ever playoff run.
When the Lumberjacks beat Grand Canyon University in the opening round, it marked the first-even postseason win for the men’s basketball program. And then they went on to beat Sacramento State in the second round, and then Saturday pulled out a 74-73 overtime victory against Kent State in the quarterfinals.
The Lumberjacks (22-14) spread the scoring around, with Kris Yanku leading the way with 19 points, followed by 16 from Aaseem Dixon. Jordyn Martin and Len Springs recorded double-doubles to help with the win, Martin hitting 15 points and 14 rebounds and Springs going 10 and 14.
This was a very fan-friendly game with lots of thrills and spills. The game see-sawed throughout the second half, with nine ties and nine lead changes before regulation ended in a 61-61 deadlock.
So if you still don’t have your fill of entertaining basketball on the college level, the ‘Jacks are playing at home again for tomorrow’s match-up with the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), a 22-11 team from Newark.
A fix for all those hoops junkies out there is just a two-hour drive away. Tip-off at the Walkup Skydome is 6 p.m.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)