With an Elite Eight NCAA tournament appearance last season and their emotional Red-Blue Game last weekend all behind them, the Arizona Wildcats...
TUSCON, Ariz. — With an Elite Eight NCAA tournament appearance last season and their emotional Red-Blue Game last weekend all behind them, the Arizona Wildcats came down to earth Thursday.
With a thud.
The Wildcats, ranked No. 16 in the preseason ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, were shocked in a 69-68 loss to Division II Seattle Pacific, allowing the Falcons to shoot 53 percent from the field and outrebound the Wildcats 29-20.
It was the Wildcats’ first loss in an exhibition game since the 1983-84 season, Lute Olson’s first at Arizona, when the Wildcats lost to Athletes in Action.
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The Falcons, 20-10 last season, have a history against Division I opponents. They won two road exhibition games against Division I teams last season: Nevada (84-81) and Eastern Washington (87-82), and have played four Pac-10 teams over the past four seasons.
“We don’t want this to be the defining moment of our season,” SPU coach Ryan Looney said. “We’re still zero and zero. Obviously, we gained a bunch of confidence tonight. Our objective was to leave a better team than when we started.”
Said Wildcats coach Sean Miller: “I wish I could say I’m going to throw a lot of things in the locker room and our guys just didn’t try. We’re just not very good right now. We aren’t. We’re just not a very good team.”
Arizona led early but trailed for most of both halves until Nick Johnson hit a three-pointer with 3:53 remaining to give the Wildcats a 63-61 lead, after a strong defensive effort led to a traveling call against SPU’s Andy Poling.
But Seattle Pacific beat Arizona with a backdoor basket and took advantage of Kyryl Natyazhko’s thrown-away pass to take a 69-65 lead into the final minute.
“We just made a couple of good plays, got the crowd fired up but they punched us right back,” Arizona forward Solomon Hill said. “When they punch you back that quick, it sucks mentally for the team.”
While Arizona had a chance to win the game after a late turnover by SPU, a final three-point try by Johnson came up short.
“We got kind of lucky. We missed a free throw that gave them a chance to tie, but we got a defensive stop,” Looney said.
With 15 minutes left and Seattle Pacific leading by 13 points, the McKale Center crowd of 12,075 stood on its feet. The Wildcats slowly responded.
Johnson scored twice in a row to cut the deficit to 46-37 with 13:43 to go, then later hit a three-pointer to make it 51-42, answering a three from SPU’s Jeff Dorman. By then, the Falcons had cooled to 6-of-15 shooting in the second half. Threes from Kyle Fogg and Solomon Hill cut SPU’s lead to 57-51 with eight minutes left.
Seattle Pacific said it thrived on the McKale atmosphere.
“It’s such a fun atmosphere,” said Seattle Pacific’s Jobi Wall, who scored a game-high 24 points. “It’s great to come in and play in everything you see on TV. It’s really fun to be a part of it.”
The Falcons succeeded, too, with the kind of heavy screening and passing in their offense that caught the Wildcats off guard, especially since the team did not scout or prepare for them as if they were a regular-season opponent.
• Perennial favorite Gonzaga was picked by the West Coast Conference men’s coaches to win a 12th consecutive crown, receiving seven of a possible eight first-place votes. St. Mary’s was second and newcomer Brigham Young was third.
• Texas A&M men’s coach Billy Kennedy, 47, said he is in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. Kennedy has taken a leave of absence and associate head coach Glynn Cyprien is running the team.
• Changes in NCAA rules adopted Thursday would keep defending national champion Connecticut from participating in the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Under the rules adopted by the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors, a school cannot participate in the 2013 tournament unless it has a two-year average score of 930 or a four-year average of 900 on the NCAA’s annual Academic Progress Rate, which measures the academic performance of student athletes.
Connecticut’s men’s basketball scored 826 for the 2009-10 school year. A UConn official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the number isn’t official until next May, said the score for the 2010-11 school year would be approximately 975.
That would not be high enough. It would give Connecticut a two-year score of 900.5 and a four-year average of 888.5.
Material from The Associated Press and SPU sports information contributed to this report.