Arizona's NCAA run all but over at 25Posted: Updated:
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Arizona's streak of 25 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances is all but over.
The Wildcats lost to UCLA 75-69 in the Pac-10 tournament on Thursday night, dropping their record to 16-15, a number that almost certainly won't be good enough for the NCAA selection committee this time.
The record is still good enough for the NIT, but not for Arizona freshman Lamont Jones, who came to Arizona fully aware of the streak.
"That's what everybody talks about," he said. "That's the history of the program and the culture of the program, and we just have to understand that. Unfortunately, we're not going to make it this year, but I guarantee we're going to get back there next year."
The Wildcats salvaged NCAA tournament appearances the last two years, extending their streak thanks mostly to the prestige built by the Pac-10. With a roster dominated by underclassmen, their chances of making it again seemed unlikely.
"Everybody knew from the beginning of the season that it would be tough. We barely made it last year, so it would be even tougher this year," said Nic Wise, who led the Wildcats with 16 points. "It's just been a great accomplishment, and it's tough to have it end this year."
Derrick Williams added 14 for Arizona, which lost in the Pac-10 quarterfinals for the third consecutive year.
Arizona's NCAA tourney streak began in 1985 under Lute Olson, and ended with first-year coach Sean Miller, who noted he was 16 and "just learning how to drive" when the run began.
"Any coach that comes to Arizona is going to find he's a paranoid coach," said Miller, who arrived in Tucson in April to find Wise on the fence about returning for his senior season. "The reason I came to Arizona is to rebuild our program. We have a possibility to get a NIT bid. It's a terrific tournament. I feel very, very good about what we've been able to accomplish."
Reeves Nelson returned for the Bruins Thursday afternoon, scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in UCLA's quarterfinal win. The Bruins will face top-seeded California, which dispatched Oregon 90-74 later Thursday night.
The Bruins (14-17) have also fallen on hard times. Unless they can win the tournament, the Bruins likely aren't going anywhere except back to Westwood to contemplate how losing so much of their best talent to the NBA draft did them in.
Kevin Love would have been a junior this season, but he jumped to the NBA. Nelson is no Love, but he is the Bruins' only solid inside presence offensively.
"He has great strength," coach Ben Howland said. "When he has the ball, it's very hard to wedge it from him."
Michael Roll and Nikola Dragovic added 18 points each, extending their careers for at least another game.
"As I was telling the guys, 'I'm just really not ready to go home,'" Roll said. "Being out there is fun."
Arizona played catch-up the entire game, but got to 58-55 with 7:52 remaining on two free throws by Solomon Hill. But the Bruins kept making free throws - they hit 77 percent in the second half - and Malcolm Lee hit a big 3-pointer to push their lead to 64-57 with 5 1/2 minutes left.
"We're not a good defensive team," Miller said. "We'll be better in the future."
And hope is all Miller has to sustain him as he follows in the Hall-of-Fame footsteps of Olson.
"That's my only choice," he said.
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