It’s never easy to give an obituary to a team, but especially so when that team played at its greatest potential in the minutes and seconds before its merciless death.
If Arizona had subverted to an inferior Belmont or Harvard squad, there would have been a sense of common acceptance that Sean Miller never got his players to reach their full capability.
If the Cats had been manhandled by the Buckeyes, fans could have justified with themselves that this team simply wasn’t good enough. That the 14-0 start was nothing more than fools gold.
But because Mark Lyons, Kevin Parrom, Solomon Hill, and the returning underclassmen fought to the very last second of the Sweet 16 and came excruciating close to pulling off another miraculous comeback, we’re left with uncertainty as to how to view this 2012-2013 season.
The season was defined by close finishes. First it was Lyons’ layup versus Florida that marked Arizona’s place among the nation’s elite. Just over a week later, the Cats won the Diamondhead Classic when Nick Johnson came from out of nowhere to block San Diego State’s potential game-winning layup.
After going undefeated in non-conference play, the Cats’ last second luck was taken to a whole new level in the Pac-12 opener. Although it appeared Sabatino Chen knocked down a game winner for Colorado with 0.1 seconds left on the clock, the refs would rule he didn’t get it off in time
Arizona outscored the Buffs 12-3 in overtime and sent Colorado into a downward spiral for the next month.
The heroics in Eugene, as Oregon put an end to Arizona’s undefeated record. It was the first of six conference losses, more than most pundits predicted back in early January.
In part because of Lyons’ on-and-off shooting sprees, freshman inconsistency, and poor effort on defense, Arizona didn’t live up to expectations that may have been too high to begin with.
But by the time the Pac-12 Tournament came around, the Cats had fully bought in. From the quarterfinal win over Colorado onwards, Arizona played with terrific defensive intensity, used a balanced offensive attack, and simply out-muscled and out-hustled opponents for long periods of play.
The final results in either post-season tournament just didn’t fall in Arizona’s favor.
Against UCLA, the team lost its composure from the top on down, even if it provided the infamous He Touched The Ball press conference from Sean Miller.
In the NCAA Tournament, Arizona never tasted adversity in the opening weekend. Although Belmont and Harvard were teams that would have given the Cats trouble a month earlier, Arizona was far too disciplined to be tripped up by a three-point dependent opponent.
The Cats looked equally dominant on both sides of the ball in the first half against Ohio State. However, the Buckeyes too were systematic and battled back. When they sensed trepidation in Arizona, they pounced and conquered a double digit lead.
Arizona, of course, came back, because if any one word defined this team, it’s resiliency.
Whether this team lived or didn’t live up to expectations is arbitrary. What they most certainly did do is improve as each month passed, until the point where they could compete with perhaps any other group of players in the Big Dance.
That might not be enough of a consolation for some and understandably so. But any rational-minded reflection of this season should come to the same conclusion: this a team that jousted until its last breath.
To put it simply, they lived up to their school’s motto.