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Arizona ends season after falling to USC in Pac-12 tournament

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Arizona’s nightmare season came to a close Thursday with one last gasp for an upset.

The 12th-seeded Wildcats lost to No. 5 USC, 59-54, in the first round of the Pacific-12 Conference Tournament in Seattle, after leading 44-43 with 11 minutes remaining, to wrap up 2013-14 at 5-25 and 1-17 in the league.

In her final game, senior Kama Griffitts led the Wildcats with 13 points and seven rebounds, while senior Carissa Crutchfield scored 12 and freshman LaBrittney Jones added 10 points. The third senior for Arizona, Erica Barnes, walked away from her college career with eight points.

Ariya Crook led the Trojans (19-12) with 19 points, Kate Oliver scored 12, Alexyz Vaioletama grabbed 12 rebounds, and Cassie Harberts recorded 11 rebounds, but was limited to six points –about 10 below her season average. USC, in its first season under Hall of Fame player Cynthia Cooper, will play No. 4 Arizona State in the quarterfinals at 3:30 p.m. MT Friday. In their lone meeting, ASU won 94-86 in OT Jan. 10.

No. 9 Colorado defeated No. 8 UCLA, 76-65, in the other early game Thursday, and the Buffaloes will play No. 1 Stanford Friday.

A mostly injury-plagued season left Niya Butts’ Arizona team with an eight-woman rotation. It began with senior Alli Gloyd and freshman Dejza James suffering year-ending ACL tears, and Barnes also missed the first four games with a concussion.

There is no doubt the highlight of the year was defeating the Sun Devils Feb. 9 in Tucson, 68-49, at a time when ASU was ranked No. 11 in the nation and just five days after a 60-36 loss in Tempe, of which Arizona blew a late-first half lead. It would be the Cats’ lone conference win.

After two overtime losses to tip off the season to Iona and Michigan, Arizona would defeat UC Santa Barbara, Texas Tech, UC Riverside, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, four teams with single-digit win totals. Even once-powerful Texas Tech is 6-23 and in last place in the Big 12.

The positive is it can only get better, as next season Arizona welcomes what is described in its media guide as “its best recruiting class in history.” JaLea Bennett, Charise Holloway, Cherice Harris, Chy Cunningham, and Taryn Griffey will lace up for the Wildcats next November. You might have heard of Griffey’s father, Ken, who should be getting a plaque in Cooperstown about midway through Taryn’s career in Tucson. The last daughter of a baseball player turned out pretty well for Arizona, in Davellyn Whyte, who was inducted into the program’s Ring of Honor Jan. 12 and can be seen in her second season with the San Antonio Silver Stars this summer.

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