HANSEN

Greg Hansen: If this is the worst thing with Arizona basketball, things are OK

2013-03-29T00:00:00Z 2013-03-29T08:41:29Z Greg Hansen: If this is the worst thing with Arizona basketball, things are OKGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 29, 2013 12:00 am  • 

LOS ANGELES - The clock was ticking again on Grant Jerrett, four minutes and counting, before the NCAA-mandated 30-minute open locker room period would expire.

He could have stonewalled the onlookers, all of those staking out his locker stall, an awkward standoff that could not possibly have a happy ending.

Arizona's freshman power forward had yet to remove a towel from his head, not even to dry his tears, or to look up and notice that most of his teammates and all of his coaches had gone into the night.

Finally, after thinking about it for 26 minutes, Jerrett looked up and quietly said "no one died."

He had tortured himself for a basketball eternity, blaming himself for Arizona's 73-70 Sweet 16 loss to Ohio State because, on the Buckeyes' final possession, he failed to cover LaQuinton Ross.

Swish. Game over.

"It was a miscommunication," he said. "I'll take the blame for it."

Sometimes the price for playing basketball, even in high school and college, is a bit too steep. You want to talk to an expert, talk to Jerrett.

Almost a year ago to the day, in the California CIF 4AA semifinals, the La Verne Lutheran Trojans had the final possession, trailing Los Angeles Price High School 53-52. Jerrett was the best player on the court, the game's high scorer, with 20 points. The last play would go to Jerrett, on his home court, the noise deafening.

With 6.9 seconds remaining, a teammate tossed the ball to Jerrett. He fumbled it out of bounds. Jerrett dropped to his knees, inconsolable. The season was over.

And now, a year later, at Staples Center, it had all come back.

"He's taking it hard, but he shouldn't," said UA senior guard Mark Lyons. "We'll talk to him. I told him the last play means nothing. He's going to be a great player here. We lost that game on five or 10 plays earlier. We'll talk to him."

LaQuinton Ross' three-pointer that put an immediate end to Arizona's attempt to reach the Final Four will be remembered for a lot longer than Jerrett's failure to keep a hand in his face.

The way Ross had played Thursday, with 14 points in the second half, he might have made that bucket with two hands in his eyes.

"Grant's going to be a big-time player here," said UA senior Solomon Hill. "The reason the future of Arizona basketball is so bright is that Grant is only a freshman. They'll get over this game."

Arizona lost Thursday because it opened the second half in a trance, missing nine of 11 shots, yielding its role as aggressor that had staked it to a 33-22 lead. And it lost because, frankly, the Buckeyes are the better team in 2012-13.

The Wildcats went about as far as they could, maybe a step beyond, and no one knows that more than Sean Miller.

"I leave this season with no regrets," he said. "For us to win 27 games and lose in the Sweet 16 to Ohio State, we leave here with our heads held high."

Someday, Jerrett will, too.

He will probably discover that Ross' game-winning jumper immediately becomes one of the three most damaging plays ever against an Arizona basketball team.

At the 1989 Sweet 16 in Denver, UNLV's Anderson Hunt buried a three over Arizona senior guard Kenny Lofton with three seconds remaining. The Rebels beat the No. 1 seeded Wildcats 68-67.

Lofton was inconsolable in the Arizona locker room that night, sobbing, burying his head in a towel the way Jerrett did Thursday.

Lofton went on to earn $61million in major-league baseball and play in five All-Star Games. He got over it.

In January 1992, at McKale Center, trying to protect its 71-game home winning streak, Arizona was beaten on a jumper by UCLA's Darrick Martin with less than a second remaining, 89-87. He shot the ball over UA freshman Damon Stoudamire, who gave Martin a bit too much space.

Stoudamire went on to earn $99 million in pro basketball and become the 1996 NBA Rookie of the Year. He got over it, too.

This is the beginning of a run to national prominence by Arizona, not the end of anything. The Wildcats are loaded. Miller and his staff have recruited the way Lute Olson did in the '80s and '90s, and someday Jerrett will be able to look back on his freshman season - he scored a modest 174 points - as the start of something to hold dear.

But on Thursday night he couldn't stop from running and re-running, his brain blurred by regret, the fumbled last chance at Laverne and the failure to bounce properly off a screen against Ohio State.

"Grant just kills us in practice," said Lyons. "He'll have his turn."

Over the last 30 years, Arizona has been eliminated from the NCAA tournament in every conceivable manner. There were grief-stricken, out-too-soon moments, at the 1988 Final Four and in a 2005 Elite Eight collapse at Illinois.

And there were games, like the one Thursday, such as an 83-80 Sweet 16 loss to Kansas, 1996, when Michael Dickerson missed an open jumper that likely would have given the Wildcats one of the year's most colossal upsets.

But the '96 Wildcats, much like the '13 Wildcats, weren't quite ready yet.

On that night in Denver 17 years ago, Dickerson sat in the locker room much like Jerrett did Thursday, towel over his head, tears flowing, not certain he would ever get another chance.

A year later Arizona won the national championship; Dickerson became an NBA lottery pick who went on to earn more than $40 million.

If losing to Ohio State is the worst thing that happens to Grant Jerrett, he'll die a happy man.

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @ghansen711

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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