Arizona was not able to overcome Xavier, falling 73-71 on Thursday and bringing the season to a close. Here’s a closer look at what happened:
Player of the Game:
Kadeem Allen - The senior wasn't necessarily at his best on Thursday, picking up two fouls in the first 90 seconds of the game, but completely changed the tide of the game in the second half. Allen shut down Trevon Bluiett when nobody else could and it was extremely unfortunate that the guard's season had to end in a game where he had such a strong defensive presence. Allen finished with eight points, four rebounds, three assists and picked up a technical foul just for good measure.
* Arizona came out fired up and attacking early. The Wildcats went to Dusan Ristic down low and jumped out to a 10-2 lead on the strength of seven from the big man and a three ball from Allen. Xavier wasn't going to take it laying down as the Musketeers went on a 7-0 run of their own to pull within one just minutes into the game.
* The Musketeers were able to trade punches with the Wildcats for the majority of the first half. Just when it looked like the game would go to halftime tied, there were a flurry of baskets in the final minute. Kobi Simmons started it off with a jumper before J.P. Macura put back his own miss with ten seconds left. The Wildcats pushed it up the court and Rawle Alkins hit a shot as he was cutting across the top of the key as the clock hit zero and Arizona took a 37-35 lead into the locker room.
* Both teams traded runs in the second half, but it never looked bleaker for the Wildcats that it did with seven minutes remaining. Xavier scored on a Trevon Bluiett layup that gave the Musketeers a 61-57 lead. Arizona called a timeout and then gave a massive punch to the opponent. Trier scored seven straight points, with a three-pointer putting Arizona ahead 64-61. After a defensive stop, Allen hit a three of his own and later Parker Jackson-Cartwright got two free throws to cap a 12-0 run.
* That was all she wrote for the Wildcats. Leading 71-64 on a Allen layup, the Wildcats failed to score another basket. Xavier scored on consecutive possessions, while Arizona was unable to answer. Bluiett hit two free throws to tie the game at 71 with two minutes to go. After failed possessions by both sides, Ristic was given the ball in the post and took a long jump hook that missed the rim and was knocked out of bounds to Xavier. The Musketeers went to O'Mara, who scored easily and sealed the win.
In a way, this game went like much of Arizona's season as a whole. Arizona played down to the level of the opponent, which in turn let Xavier remain in the game and have the confidence to make a push at the end. When it comes down to figuring out why the Wildcats lost this game, you have to look at the two major fronts in basketball: offense and defense. On the defensive end, Xavier shot 53-percent from the field, with many of their looks coming from lightly contested layups or short jumpers. Bluiett went off in the first half, but the interior defense was nearly non-existent in the second half, like it has for stretches of the season.
On the offensive end, the Wildcats best two threats had sub-par performances. Trier missed his first four three-point attempts, while going two for eight in the first half. He showed up in the second half and scored 15 straight points for the Wildcats, but it wasn't enough. Arizona's other star offensive player, Markkanen, shot the ball just three times in the second half and make only one of them. The leading scorer on the team did not attempt a shot in the final 11 minutes of the game despite playing only sitting for a single minute.
Sean Miller Quotable:
"Our team never really ever established great confidence against the zone," Miller said. "I think in some ways that was the reason, defensively, that we weren't as good as we usually are or maybe better than we needed to be, because the game never really felt good. And that's on me."
"My coaches, teammates, everyone in the program, they gave me the confidence that I had toward the end of the season," Allen said. "I just took it and I was just out there playing basketball. I appreciate everything he's done for me and the coaching staff and my teammates. I love these guys."