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March 10, 2012

Wildcats lose second straight Pac-12 title game



LOS ANGELES - Arizona's season started with questions of where to go for a last shot, so it was only fitting that the Wildcats' Pac-12 Conference championship game appearance Saturday at the Staples Center came down to the final possession.

The question remained unanswered.

The fourth-seeded Wildcats were unable to erase a 12-point deficit and Kyle Fogg's desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer with UA trailing by two never reached the rim, sending No. 6 Colorado to the NCAA tournament with a 53-51 win.

The Buffaloes (23-11), who won four games in four days, earned the Pac-12's automatic bid and will find out who and where they will play during Sunday's NCAA tournament selection show, which will air on CBS at 3 p.m. PST.

It will be Colorado's 11th NCAA tournament appearance and first as a member of the Pac-12, which it joined this season.

"It was meant to be for us," said Colorado head coach Tad Boyle, whose team was projected to finish 10th in a preseason media poll.

Trailing by two with 14.4 seconds to play after a pair of missed Austin Dufault free throws, the Wildcats (23-11) dribbled up the length of the floor and Fogg received the ball on the left wing in front of the UA bench. But the Buffs' defense swarmed Fogg, who had nowhere to go and fired an off-balance attempt.

It was the second straight season UA has lost in the Pac-12 championship game - both by two points and both games came down to the game's final possession.

"Well, had the same feeling this year as we did last year," Wildcats head coach Sean Miller said.

But there was just one difference.

"Today was much different because it meant the NCAA tournament versus no on that, and it's a difficult loss for all of us," Miller added.

Despite Sunday's selection still to come, Miller was sure that the loss to Arizona State in the regular-season finale ended the Wildcats' hopes for an at-large bid.

"I'm not saying that we're not close," Miller added. "We're not games away. We're probably about four plays away, which includes today's game."

Colorado senior Carlon Brown was the named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player and delivered what appeared to be the punctuation mark with a thunderous, uncontested dunk to put the Buffs ahead by six with 50 seconds to play.

But after a pair of Fogg free throws, Nate Tomlinson threw the ball away with 30 seconds left and UA attempting to foul. Solomon Hill capitalized with a layup on the next possession, setting up the game's final sequence.

"It took us a while to get it together," senior forward Jesse Perry said. "Once we did, it was pretty much too late. It came down to the last shot, so that's really what happened."

Freshman guard Spencer Dinwiddie led the way with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting - including 4-of-4 from the 3-point line. Brown, who finished with 13 points, was joined on the all-tournament team by teammate Andre Roberson, who added 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Fogg, Hill and Perry also were named to the all-tournament team along with Oregon State guard Jared Cunningham.

Fogg finished with 14 points, Hill added 13 and Perry chipped in 11 and eight rebounds.

Leading by two at the break, the Buffaloes quickly took their first double-digit lead on two Dufault free throws to make the score 44-33 inside the first six minutes of the second half.

A Dufault offensive rebound and tip-in with 9:09 to play matched the Buffs' largest lead, running the score to 50-38.

"The first 10 minutes of the second half, we had no answer for them," Miller said.

But from there, Colorado went scoreless for the next 7 minutes, 46 seconds. However, UA only managed to knock seven points off the deficit while the Buffaloes missed nine consecutive field goals.

Part of the problem was free throws, as the Wildcats converted just 10 of 18 at the line.

"We picked the wrong time to miss," Miller said. "I thought that hurt us."

Dinwiddie connected on all three of his first-half attempts from beyond the arc to put the Buffs up 15-11 a little past the midway point of the first half. But the Wildcats answered with five 3s of their own, and Fogg's long-range basket at the 5:56 mark gave UA its first lead at 22-19.

The teams combined to make 8 of 19 attempts from the 3-point line in a closely contested half. Neither team led by more than five points in the first 20 minutes.

Colorado regained the lead on a Jeremy Adams layup with 43 seconds left, but missed a chance to add to its 30-28 halftime lead on a fumbled pass under the basket with two seconds remaining.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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