What went wrong? 3 takeaways from Arizona's loss to Xavier in the Sweet 16

Posted at 11:45 PM, Mar 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-24 07:52:49-04

Another promising season for the Arizona Wildcats has ended prematurely, and coach Sean Miller will have to wait at least one more year to earn that Final Four bid missing from his otherwise impressive résumé.

The No. 2 seed Wildcats led a late lead slip away as they were upset by Miller's former team, No. 11 seed Xavier, 73-71 in San Jose on Thursday. Arizona finished the season with an outstanding 32-5 record that included a Pac-12 regular-season and tournament championship, but the Wildcats once again came short of that elusive Final Four appearance.

Here are three takeaways from UA's loss.

1. Cats can't come through when it counts

Like they did in the second round against St. Mary's, it looked like Arizona would survive a sub-par performance and find a way to advance to the next round. Instead, the Wildcats were outscored 12-2 in the game's final four minutes, as star Xavier guard Travon Bluiett's 25 points proved to be too much for UA to overcome.

Arizona's stars were MIA in crunch time. Sophomore Allonzo Trier scored 15 straight points for Arizona in the second half, but he missed his final three shots, including a 3-point attempt in the final seconds, sealing the Wildcats' fate. Also, 7-foot freshman and likely NBA lottery pick Lauri Markkanen didn't attempt a shot in the game's final 11 minutes.

2. Cats continue to struggle against the zone

After the game, Arizona coach Sean Miller acknowledged the Wildcats' problems against Xavier's various zone defensive schemes. Xavier implemented 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone defensive looks throughout the game, forcing the Wildcats to settle for outside shots. Arizona took 27 3-pointers on Thursday, which is not their game -- and they made just seven of them.

Miller is one of the nation's top coaches, but Arizona's struggles against the zone have been a constant throughout his time in Tucson. As long as those problems continue, the Wildcats are going to have a tough time breaking through and finally earning that Final Four bid that has eluded them for the last 16 years and counting.

3. Offseason questions begin now

Arizona has another impressive recruiting class coming in next season. But the big question is: Who's coming back next year?

Markkanen is a near-lock to go pro, but Trier has been all over the map on experts' NBA mock drafts -- anywhere from a lottery pick to undrafted altogether. Will the Wildcats' leading scorer test the NBA waters or return for his junior season? Reserve freshman guard Kobi Simmons appears on some mock draft boards, as well, but his production faded late in the season.

Arizona will reload next year with a class that includes the nation's No. 1 or 2 recruit (depending on who you ask), 7-foot, 250-pound beast and Phoenix Hillrest Prep star DeAndre Ayton. An Ayton-Trier combo, combined with the likely return of center Dusan Ristic and guards Rawle Alkins and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, would likely be enough to make Arizona a top-5 team heading into next season.