As Arizona headed into the locker room at the end of the first half in the Pac 12 Tournament semifinal against Oregon State, things were looking grim. After taking an early lead, the Wildcats had allowed Oregon State to take control of the game and jump ahead 34-27. Arizona could not seem to hit a bucket, shooting less than 40%, while their defense slipped and allowed Oregon State to shoot 50% from the field. The Cats were being out-rebounded and playing less aggressively than they had against UCLA, getting to the line only four times.
I will not lie–a part of me briefly pondered the idea that this might be the seniors’ last game as a Wildcat.
But then something happened. Seniors Kyle Fogg (22 points, 8 rebounds) and Jesse Perry (16 points, 11 rebounds) decided they were not ready to put away their uniforms just quite yet and Oregon State realized that, despite a great effort, they had run out of their last drop of gas–a combination of Arizona wanting it more and Oregon State having nothing left. Arizona went on a 20-3 tear and never looked back, making baskets when they counted (Arizona finished at 47%) and suffocating the Beavers from making anything easy (37%). The Cats played more aggressively, out-rebounding OSU and getting to the line 18 times in the second half. The end result: a 72-61 victory and one step away from an invitation to the Big One.
Sean Miller has done some pretty impressive things this season, and there could be an argument made that–considering the circumstances and adversity that his team has faced this year–Miller has had his most impressive coaching performance this year. Injuries and suspensions have come at crucial moments for a team that is limited and small, and doubters have doubted, thinking that the season was over after Oregon, after Colorado, after Washington, after Washington again, and after ASU.
Yet Miller and his Cats continue fighting to play another day.