LOS ANGELES – The United Express terminal at LAX hosted the only late-evening flights headed from Los Angeles to both Tucson and Phoenix on Saturday, so you know what that meant.
Yep, it was a pretty somber scene.
Players, coaches, staffers and fans from both UA and ASU filled the slender terminal quietly, many with their heads down and some talking quietly or listening to music. I don’t think I saw a smile the entire time I sat out a 70-minute delay, with both teams having been swept.
And that was four hours after the Wildcats were brought back to Earth at Pauley Pavilion, where the post-game scene was almost distraught.
It’s impossible to tell you what the locker room looked like, since UA has regularly closed it since Kevin O’Neill left (except when mandated to open it for NCAA tournament games).
The door stayed shut for over 35 minutes after the UA-UCLA game, and after Miller stepped out to do his radio show, the door shut again. Well, at least it did after one Southern California reporter was unceremoniously booted once he wandered in without knowing what Arizona's rules were.
Finally, a few minutes minutes after that, Kyryl Natyazhko came out, and the door shut quickly behind him.
We all huddled around Natyazhko, who offered few explanations.
“We tried to come in and bring some energy,” Natyazhko said. “The effort in the first couple of minutes I thought we did a pretty good job. Then, for some reason we lost it a little bit.”
After a few minutes, Natyazhko went back inside and the door shut again. No other UA players were made available to the media (UA usually chooses two or three players to talk, though none could be interviewed after the BYU loss).
Later, Miller arrived, spoke directly about the team’s problems as he always does and then tried to put it all into perspective.
He still has a 23-6 team, and one that might win the Pac-10 Conference with a pair of home games against two-lower division teams next weekend.
Life isn’t that bad, is it?
“We have to make sure we recognize who we are as a team, what we have at stake, make sure we get back to Tucson and play well,” he said.
The schedule says UA still has the best chance to win the Pac-10, and it’s pretty clear why:
The Wildcats get the Oregon schools at home next weekend, while UCLA must go to Washington State and Washington. And the Huskies sit a game back of both Arizona and UCLA – if they can beat WSU tonight – unable to catch Arizona if the Wildcats win both games.
If UCLA happens to win both and Arizona wins both, the teams would end up knotted in a tie at 14-4. They would share the regular-season title and the No. 1 Pac-10 Tournament seed would be given to the team with the best record against whatever team is highest in the standings below them.
Since both UCLA and Arizona would have both split against Washington (the Huskies beat the Bruins at Pauley earlier in the season), the tiebreaker would probably go to Arizona since the Wildcats beat California twice and UCLA didn't (USC may finish higher but both UCLA and Arizona split against the Trojans, too).
The No 1 and No. 2 seeds both get play-in opponents for the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament, though if the Wildcats get the No. 1 spot they would be placed in a bracket opposite UCLA and Washington.
If the seeds were determined on today’s standings, Arizona would be No. 1 and face the winner of No. 8 Stanford and No. 9 Oregon State in the quarterfinals. If the Wildcats won that, they would face the winner of USC and California in the semifinals.
For all of UA’s problems Saturday, Miller left probably still more upset about what happened Thursday, when the Wildcats kicked away a four-point lead they held over USC with four minutes to go.
“We knew it was going to be a tough weekend,” Miller said. “USC was certainly very winnable and we didn’t finish that game. Today I felt we played against an excellent team playing at a high level in front of a great crowd. We didn’t play well.”
Our print coverage posted overnight, if you missed any of it: A game story, sidebar, seen-and-heard notes, and a photo gallery. (Hustle award this weekend goes to Patrick Finley, who broke away from Match Play coverage to make the day trip to L.A.)
Here's the official boxscore and play-by-play from the UA-UCLA game.
Washington hopes to erase the memory of the post-game sting at WSU last month. The Huskies and Cougars will hold the rematch today at 8 p.m. at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, on national FSN.
Nikola Vucevic's father enjoyed a long trip to come see his son play for a USC team that just might be making a run for the NCAA tournament.