SAN JOSE – It happens all the time.
Players lose games. Coaches take responsibility.
This time we’ll agree with Sean Miller.
It’s on him.
Arizona’s 73-71 loss to Xavier on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament West Regional happened because the Wildcats weren’t equipped to handle what the Musketeers presented them, especially late in the game.
That’s on Miller. It doesn’t make him a bad coach. It makes him one with a bad day.
Here’s what he said after the game:
“You know, our team never really established great confidence against the zone … and that’s on me,” he said.
“Your job when you get to this area, when you get to this level of college basketball, your best players have got to be confident. We have to get them shots. I don’t care what defense they’re playing, 1-3-1, 2-3, man to man. I didn’t feel we did that tonight. And that’s probably the worst feeling you can have as a coach.”
BOX SCORE: No. 11 Xavier 73, No. 2 Arizona 71
Miller’s take on his team’s confidence was right on.
Late in the second half, the Wildcats looked disjointed, blowing an eight-point lead in the final four minutes.
Lauri Markkanen didn’t take a shot in the final 11 minutes and didn’t seem to look for the ball with his back to the basket.
Dusan Ristic took an eight-foot hook shot with 50 seconds to play and the score tied at 71 and it more resembled a shot put, with no rotation, and came up short.
The Wildcats played unfocused and unconfident.
What does this mean about Miller and another season without a Final Four?
Nothing, other than he has a bit of soul-searching to do after this season.
He is still a coach most universities in the country would like to have, one who out-recruits just about everyone and coaches an entertaining brand of basketball.
No question fans are sour: Somebody updated his Wikipedia page and in the 2016-17 postseason section, wrote “You guessed it. Not the Final Four.”
Few probably took this game as hard as Allonzo Trier.
He sat on the ground five seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds after it was over. He didn’t want to stand up because it would mean he would have to walk out of SAP Center for the final time in this tournament.
He was crushed.
So was Arizona teammate Kadeem Allen, his eyes cloudy, his jersey in his mouth, his head down.
Miller walked off the court with his shoulders back because with maturity and experience comes perspective, something he surely tried to share with his team in the postgame locker room.
“If you’re a team that is 32-5, you win both the Pac-12 regular season and also the Pac-12 Tournament, and our journey ends in the Sweet 16, it’s hard to look at that as not getting it done or failure,” he said.
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The loss overshadowed the theatrics of Trier. The only thing performance-enhancing about his effort was his will to win.
The sophomore rebounded from an unsteady first half with a clutch second half, scoring 15 consecutive points. But because of the expectations he places on himself, he will probably instead beat himself up about a missed off-balance 3-point try with eight seconds left that could have put Arizona ahead.
It was an on-target shot that simply went in, and then out.
In the second half, he played like someone trying to make up for the 19 games he missed after testing positive for PEDs in October.
What a game.
What an ending.
Xavier is an impressive No. 11 seed and went on a 12-2 run late.
The Wildcats appeared back in control with Allen hitting a dagger 3 to make it 67-61 and the Musketeers calling a timeout with 4:26 left.
It wasn’t enough, and Xavier came back.
Ghosts of Final Fours past flocked to the SAP Center Thursday hoping to deliver a little postseason juju for Arizona.
Steve Kerr. Mile Simons. Tom Tolbert.
Emotions were high as the Wildcats took the court. The father of guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Ramon, covered his face with his hands before the game started.
A lot was at stake.
When you consider what Miller has accomplished in eight seasons at Arizona – six NCAA Tournaments, three Elite Eights – it is hardly fair that he is often judged by what he hasn’t done: advance to the Final Four.
He was one of two coaches in this four-team West Regional who are among the top three of all-time with the most NCAA tournament wins but no Final Four. He has 19. Mark Few, whose Gonzaga team beat West Virginia in the early game, has 24.
Few still has a chance this season.
There’s always next year.
Reach Paola Boivin at [email protected] and on Twitter at Twitter.com/PaolaBoivin. Listen to her streaming live on “The Brad Cesmat Show” on sports360az.com every Monday at 10:30 a.m.