Despite USC constantly chipping away at Arizona’s lead, the Wildcats looked as if they were headed for their first road win of the season – until Nic Wise was called for an intentional foul away from the ball with 3:50 left on the clock. From that moment on 7 of USC’s final 11 points came from the free throw line – including the game winner with 1.2 seconds remaining. It would be easy to find a scape goat to pin another one-point loss onto, but in reality that’s ridiculous.
Yes, the officiating was terrible with blown calls left and right, the worst of which the intentional foul on Wise, but Arizona still controlled the game despite the officiating. Sure, Jordan Hill missed a late-game free throw, but he never should’ve received the inbounds pass, and Budinger shouldn’t have been in-bounding the ball. Nic Wise definitely shouldn’t have thrown the ball away on the Wildcats final possession, but he shouldn’t have even had the ball in that situation. Not a single one of these things should have happened, but they did. That’s just the misfortune the ‘Cats have had on the road this year.
This was the best performance on the road the ‘Cats have had all season long. They controlled most of the game and held the lead for almost all of it. I commend the ‘Cats for that, but it all came unraveled in the final 3:50 putting the ‘Cats in a position they never ought to have been in. So blame Budinger, Hill, Wise, Horne, Johnson, Fogg, the officials and everyone else if you want, but to pin it on one play or one player is bogus.
The Wildcats did a nice job making adjustments throughout the game. When Budinger was face guarded, they ran him off staggered double-screens to get him open looks. When Jordan Hill picked up his second foul with 9 minutes remaining in the first half, the ‘Cats continued to fight by scoring 19 more points before halftime. After giving up 11 first-half offensive rebounds, they cranked down and only allowed four more in the second half. I was very impressed by the overall effort of the Wildcats tonight, but it’s the worst way for a great game to end – with a one-point loss.
Chase Budinger – Budinger was aggressive tonight, and the ‘Cats looked to get him the ball for most of the night. While facing an intense defense designed with him as the focal point Budinger came up big for the ‘Cats with 19 points on 60% shooting. A game like that against the nations 5th best defense is what reminds us that despite his slumps, he has the talent to become a solid player in the NBA.
Jamelle Horne: Horne was a major contributor and a big reason why Arizona had a shot at pulling off their first road win tonight. I’m sure you’re probably mad that I didn’t put him down in the “Ugly” section because of his last second foul that led to the game-winning free throw by Hackett. To judge Horne’s performance based on a ticky-tack foul is an injustice to what he did. Horne is a major reason why USC only got 4 offensive rebounds in the second half. He was aggressive going after the ball even leapt higher than Taj Gibson for rebounds on consecutive plays. Horne did exactly what we needed him to, scored (8 points), was active defensively (2 steals), and was crashing the boards (7 rebounds). One mistake doesn’t change the fact that he was a major contributor and a big reason why Arizona was in a position to win this game.
Simple Mistakes: I’ve already listed them above. Budinger in-bounding the ball, Hill missing a crunch-time free throw, Wise turning the ball over, as well as a shot clock violation. These were signs that this team is struggling and has youth and an interim coach at the helm. They are all easily correctable. Not one of these plays single-handedly lost the game for the ‘Cats (nor did Horne’s foul) – but a culmination of them and the refs was enough to shoot the Wildcats in the paw.
Many fans’ reaction to Jamelle Horne following his late-game foul. He was in a good defensive position, staying in front of Hackett, and was called for a tacky foul. Yes, it was heart-breaking. But if I’m Horne, I’m not embarrassed or upset with myself for that play. He was where he was supposed to be, doing what he was supposed to do and got called for a cheap foul when the ref should’ve swallowed his whistle. Horne wasn’t chasing Hackett down and going Superman-style on him. He didn’t clobber him, and he didn’t foul him in the act of shooting. He was playing defense!