The Arizona Wildcats entered the 2011-2012 season with very high expectations after making an impressive trip to the Elite Eight in the previous year. While the losses of Derrick Williams, MoMo Jones and senior Jamelle Horne would indefinitely be felt in the early going, most felt the UA was positioned for another run due to a strong incoming freshman class and multiple starters returning to campus.
For one reason or another, everything just would not come together for the Wildcats this season. Whether it be players getting injured, freshmen getting into trouble off the court or simply poor execution on a final play or two, it never came together for Sean Miller. And just when it looked like the team had turned the corner, something else would inevitably pop up to hamstring the team.
One step forward, one step back. Repeat multiple times.
Now, while most teams are preparing for the NCAA Tournament, the UA hosts the Bucknell Bison for the NIT. What were the games that led the Wildcats to this low point?
November 23, 2011, Arizona vs. San Diego State
This was one of the first games of the year for the Wildcats and most had them pencilled in for a victory against an SDSU club that lost nearly everyone from their Sweet 16 team the previous year. Instead of coming out ready to go against their toughest home opponent of the year, they came out incredibly flat and lost at home by a score of 61-57, ending a 22-game winning streak at McKale Center.
Should the UA have taken care of business, they could have put a top-25 victory on their resumé against a team that received a No. 6 seed to the NCAA Tournament earlier this week. This game seems to be overlooked by many, and it truly did put a damper on the 'Cats early in the season.
December 7, 2011, Arizona @ Florida
The Wildcats were not given much of a chance heading into Gators territory and the team learned just hours before their game that starting freshman point guard Josiah Turner had not made the trip for violating team rules. Not only did it put head coach Sean Miller in a tough situation, but it left the Wildcats with just one point guard on the roster. Because of Turner's absence, freshman guard Nick Johnson was forced to play half the game handling the ball, something he had very little experience doing at the college level.
What was so frustrating about this game and that the 'Cats simply outplayed Florida. They dominated nearly every facet of the game and played stellar defense against a Gators team that can flat-out score the basketball. Despite their efforts, Arizona wore down throughout the closing minutes and ended up losing in overtime. What would have happened if they had Turner running the offense down the stretch? UA should have won this game and it would've given them a very impressive road victory to hang their hat on.
January 28, 2012, Arizona vs. Washington
This was the game that really let the wind out of Arizona's sails. With a sold out, white out crowd in attendance, the team went cold in the second half and succumbed to Washington's pressure defense. And despite a furious comeback attempt in the closing seconds -- a deep 3-pointer actually tied the game at one point -- a silly foul in the closing seconds cost them the game. With a record of 5-4 in conference play, it looked like their season was over.
February 2, 2012, Arizona @ California
For as dead as the Wildcats looked after their loss earlier in the week to Washington, not many thought they would come even close to hanging with the NCAA Tournament bound Bears on the road. Instead, the Wildcats played their best game of the season and came out of Berkeley with a huge road win that kept their hopes alive. This win propelled the team to a five-game winning streak before eventually falling to the Huskies once again.
March 4, 2012, Arizona @ ASU
Looking back on it, this was the game that cost Arizona a chance at an NCAA Tournament bid. Win this game -- and probably win a game or two in the conference tournament -- and the Wildcats go dancing in March. Instead, the UA came out sloppy, lazy and allowed Arizona State to hang around and drill shots from the outside for all 40 minutes. Sean Miller said he was disgusted after the game and I share that sentiment completely. Absolutely disgusting.
March 10, 2012, Arizona vs. Colorado
The Wildcats picked a special time for their worst offensive output of the season, scoring just 51 points against a team that was playing its fourth game in about 72 hours. Arizona was unable to match their opponent's intensity for a majority of the game and a late comeback fell short at the buzzer. This officially ended any chance of an at-large bid for the program and sent them home to play in the NIT.
You may notice that five of these six games were all losses for the Wildcats. That's never good when recapping a season.
This past season was rough and it would be great to send the seniors out with a championship at the NIT, but it's time to think about the future. The No. 1 recruiting class in the nation will be making its way to Tucson in a few short months and players like Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes should finally be healthy to make another run. Combine that with Solomon Hill primed to have a fantastic senior season and it's easy to see why most feel next year will be different.
Or at least we can only hope so.