For the moment, Wildcats fans may not take much solace in the fact that they witnessed an all-time classic earlier this evening, but in hindsight, they may be able to appreciate what a battle the 64-63 victory for Wisconsin truly was.
The stakes could not have been any higher. Whichever team was able to impose their will over the course of 40 minutes (in this case, it happened to be 45), would be able to come out victorious and punch their ticket to Texas to be one of the Final Four remaining teams left in college hoops.
Each team had stark similarities to one another, with both being incredibly thin when it comes to depth and relying on a slower pace of game. Unfortunately, for the Wildcats, they were unable to contain the best player on the floor tonight. Frank Kaminsky put on a clinic of textbook basketball moves that would rival that of any player in the nation. Neither Kaleb Tarczewski, nor Aaron Gordon had an answer.
Even with Kaminsky scoring at will on one end, had Arizona been able to exploit the Badgers lack of size on the interior, they would have outpaced them. Yet again, Tarczewski finished the night with only two rebounds, way below his season average.
In the same way that Nick Johnson disappeared for the game against San Diego State, both Aaron Gordon and T.J. McConnell were MIA shooting the ball tonight. When Brandon Ashley was in the fold, McConnell’s whole “pass first” mentality was all good and well; without the talented swingman, he by default had to take on more of a scoring role. To discredit his outstanding achievements all season based on one performance against a stifling defense would be unfair to the point guard that almost single handedly let Arizona out of the dark.
Where many fans will turn to be curious is the play of Aaron Gordon. There are times when his game screams Blake Griffin, and there are times when it screams bust. His return to Tucson seems highly unlikely, even with the litany of freshman superstars headed to the pros this upcoming summer. Similarly to Griffin (or even Derrick Williams), he could use an extra year of seasoning under the tutelage of Sean Miller to get himself physically ready for the interior game of the NBA.
Gordon started the game by going 1-for-8 from the field, before ultimately finishing with eight points and 17 rebounds. Statistically his game may translate well, but the eye test just more left in the balance.
The PAC-12 Conference’s Player of the Year may also have put a cap on his career with the Wildcats. In some form of eerie irony, Johnson averaged (when rounding) 16 points, four rebounds and three assists on the season—his stat line tonight featured exactly those numbers. Had he been able to reach 18 points, it would have sent the Wildcat fans in Anaheim off to a victory party of their lifetime.
It will be a moment he relives for the majority of his life. A chance at the Final Four on the line, with just 2.3 seconds remaining. The fact that his team even had the ball was due to a lengthy technicality that made the whole moment seem anti-climactic. He had a realistic chance for one, maybe two dribbles, and then a pull-up jumpshot for the win. Johnson caught it clean off a screen, and then curiously darted for the left elbow, inside the three-point line. Immediately, it seemed as if he would not have enough time, and even as he hoisted his prayer to the Gods, no one could answer the fact that he had neglected to get the ball off before red lights decorated the backboard. A stunned silence froze the Wildcats bench as the scarlet of Wisconsin danced off into the night with the victory and the golden ticket to Texas.
For a season with so much promise and possibility, to see it end before the Final Four is definitely tough to swallow. It’s human nature to think: what if? What if, Brandon Ashley had been here? What if, T.J. McConnell and Aaron Gordon did not go a combined 5-for-21 from the field with the season on the line? All of these questions can be posed to hands with no answers.
Now, the Wildcats sit back and watch the biggest spectacle in college basketball from the comfort of their own couch. As they watch Wisconsin play for a chance at a National Title, they can only ponder to themselves: what if?
Tags: Arizona Wildcats