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“We’ve played everybody really tough on the road. Had an opportunity to win today’s game like we’ve had all year, but we’re not quite good enough to be there for 40 minutes.” — Arizona coach Sean Miller after Saturday’s 70-64 loss at Utah.
Dating to more than two years ago, on Jan. 29, 2014, at Stanford, Arizona has not been quite good enough on the road to win a game by three points or less.
Since that game — won by top-ranked Arizona 60-57 — the Wildcats have lost eight consecutive games on the road in outcomes decided by three points or less.
Nick Johnson led the Wildcats to that victory over Stanford thanks to a go-ahead three-pointer with 51 seconds remaining and two free throws with 5.8 seconds showing.
Crunch-time plays like that have become foreign for Arizona.
NOTABLE ARIZONA BUZZER BEATERS
— Arizona 6-10 center Bob Elliott’s 35-foot jumper at the buzzer beats Kansas State in 1973.
— Eddie Smith’s bank shot at the buzzer beats ASU 65-64 in Tempe in 1984 and sets Lute Olson’s dominant program in motion.
— Craig McMillan’s McClutch shot at the buzzer from full-court pass from Steve Kerr against Oregon State in 1986.
— Sean Rooks’ last-second bank shot at Stanford in 1991 gives the Wildcats a 78-76 victory.
— Chris Mills’ buzzer-beating jumper in regulation gives Arizona life in its 105-94 overtime victory over UCLA in 1991.
— Khalid Reeves’ coast-to-coast buzzer-beater with less the five seconds left beats Stanford at Maples Pavilion in 1992.
— Miles Simon’s 65-foot bank shot as time expired to beat Cincinnati in Phoenix in 1996.
— Richard Jefferson’s tap-in at the buzzer off Jason Terry’s missed three-pointer beats Washington in 1999.
— Salim Stoudamire’s jumper with six-tenths of a second left beats ASU in Tempe in 2005.
— Nic Wise’s controversial game-winning last-second shot against Lipscomb at McKale in 2009.
— Wise drove the length of the court for a buzzer-beating win against North Carolina State also in 2009.
— MoMo Jones’ 16-foot bank shot at the buzzer in the same season 2009-10 beats Stanford at Maples.
— Wise’s game-winning shot with one second left in double-overtime against USC at McKale caps wild finishes in Miller’s first season at Arizona.
Craig McMillan makes his famous “McCluth” layup in the last seconds against Oregon State in 1986 following a length-of-the-court inbound pass from Steve Kerr that bounced off a Beaver defender into his hands (YouTube video capture)
In the very next game after Johnson’s clutch performance at Stanford, Cal’s Justin Cobbs made a buzzer-beating jumper in Berkeley, Calif., toppling Arizona and starting the eight-game streak on the road without a win in such games for the Wildcats.
Before Arizona managed to avoid a devastating upset in November against Santa Clara, surviving in overtime with a 75-73 win at the John Wooden Classic at Anaheim, Calif., the Wildcats lost three of their previous four neutral-site affairs in outcomes decided by three points or less.
Arizona is 4-11 away from McKale Center in such games since the start of the 2012-13 season.
Miller’s teams were 11-6 overall in these type of outomes in his first two seasons of 2009-10 and 2010-11. Since then, over a five-year span, with much better talent? The Wildcats are 12-16.
Similar to a batter in a hitting slump, all it might take is for Arizona to finally win a game in the last seconds to get over that mental hurdle.
After every close Arizona loss — four defeats have come by three points or less at UCLA, USC, Cal and Colorado this season — the common question among fans is when was the last time the Wildcats won a buzzer beater?
Many believe Mark Lyons holds that distinction. Lyons made the game-winning basket against Florida on Dec. 15, 2012, in a 65-64 victory at McKale, but that came with 7 seconds on the clock.
The Gators had a chance to win the game but botched their final possession, fumbling the ball away before taking a wild 3-pointer. This sequence sounds all too familiar to Arizona this season with how some games were decided. Gabe York has been involved in such developments in losses at USC, Cal and Colorado.
The accurate answer to the buzzer-beater question is MoMo Jones’ 12-foot bank shot at Stanford on Feb. 27, 2010, with no time remaining, giving Arizona a 71-69 victory.
A week later at McKale Center, Nic Wise made a game-winning layup with 1.5 seconds remaining to beat USC 86-84 in double-overtime. Wise drove through the lane past multiple defenders to bank the shot in. USC’s Donte Smith missed a shot at the buzzer.
That game went into overtime because Kyle Fogg made three free throws after getting fouled on a three-point shot attempt with two-tenths of a second left in regulation. Wise’s winning shot was his third of that season, which was Miller’s first at Arizona, following his improbable buzzer-beaters against Lipscomb and North Carolina State.
Good fortune was on Miller’s side despite taking over a program that was trying to re-establish itself after the Lute Olson leave-of-absence and retirement saga.
Now it seems Miller can’t get over the hump with late-game heroics.
With this being the most competitive season in the Pac-12 since Arizona joined the conference in 1978-79, the Wildcats face a postseason that will likely have plenty of drama. The Pac-12 tournament should feature outcomes decided by the last possession.
The nail biting might actually start before that against a Cal team Thursday night at McKale Center that is playing as well as anybody in the league. Arizona is 12-4 under Miller at McKale in games decided by three points or less.
If it comes to a last-second situation, who will channel their inner Nic Wise and make the clutch play that Arizona so desperately needs?
ARIZONA’S LAST EIGHT ROAD GAMES DECIDED BY THREE POINTS OR LESS
|L||Cal||60-58||Cal guard Justin Cobbs makes game-winning shot at buzzer|
|L||ASU||69-66 2OT||T.J. McConnell's driving shot at end blocked by ASU center Jordan Bachynski|
|L||Oregon St||58-56||McConnell misses short running jumper with 1 second left|
|L||ASU||81-78||McConnell made three-pointer with 1 second left to pull Arizona within three|
|L||UCLA||87-84||UCLA's Bryce Alford makes three-pointer with 1.8 seconds left and Arizona unable to get shot off|
|L||USC||103-101 4OT||Gabe York had ball stripped and Kadeem Allen missed contested jumper at the buzzer|
|L||Cal||74-73||York dribbled off his foot and missed a contested shot at the end|
|L||Colorado||75-72||Allonzo Trier's three-point try at buzzer bounces off back of the rim|
MILLER IN GAMES DECIDED BY THREE POINTS OR LESS AT ARIZONA
Road: 5-12 (lost 8 consecutive)
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.