ANAHEIM, Calif. — Eyes red, head bowed and a towel draped over his shoulders, Arizona's Derrick Williams answered each question Saturday night in a soft but stern voice.
No, he doesn't regret not attacking 7-foot Charles Okwandu off the dribble on Arizona's final possession. Yes, he would take a go-ahead top-of-the-key 3-pointer again. No, he doesn't wish he could have a do-over.
Had Williams sank his step-back 23-footer over Okwandu's out-stretched arms, fifth-seeded Arizona would probably be celebrating its fifth Final Four berth on Saturday night. Instead he and teammate Jamelle Horne both missed 3s in the final eight seconds, enabling third-seeded Connecticut to escape with a hard-earned 65-63 victory and stage a party of its own at midcourt.
"I wouldn't do anything different," Williams said. "It's a matter of making shots. We didn't make the shots when we needed it."
Arizona coach Sean Miller said the plan for the final possession was to run a high stagger screen for Kyle Fogg in hopes of freeing him for a 3-pointer, but Connecticut defended that play well. While Miller said he could live a guy shooting 60 percent from behind the arc taking a contested 3-pointer to try to send Arizona to the Final Four, UConn guard Shabazz Napier acknowledged he was shocked Williams took that shot.
Whereas Williams had carried Arizona to the Elite Eight with his scoring barrages, highlight dunks and game-saving blocked shots, the 6-foot-10 forward was not quite at his best in Saturday's loss.
He only played seven first-half minutes as a result of picking up three fouls, the last of which came on a silly reach-in around the basket. He still responded with a strong second half to finish with a team-high 20 points, but he missed 5 of 6 attempts from 3-point range and he made a key turnover in the final three minutes that led to a Jeremy Lamb transition dunk.
Williams declined to answer questions about his future after Saturday's game, but it's a long shot at best that he will return to Arizona. The sophomore has soared up NBA draft projections this season and would potentially be a top-five pick if he leaves school.
If Saturday's loss turns out to be the final game Williams plays wearing an Arizona jersey, he'll leave knowing he left the program in better shape than he found it. His legacy will be leading the Wildcats to a Pac-10 championship, a 30-win season and a berth in the Elite Eight just a year after rebuilding Arizona missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in a quarter century.
"This is a trampoline and a spring board, I hope, for future runs in this tournament," Miller said. "I do believe we can bring even more talented teams, more experienced teams than the one we have right now to this tournament, and that's the quest. That's the goal."
Even in the immediate aftermath of a difficult loss, Williams was able to reflect on what he and his teammates had accomplished. He said making the Elite Eight was something the Wildcats should be proud of even though they fell short on Saturday.
"We put together a run, they put together a run," Williams said. "That's really what it comes down to is a game of runs and they had the last run."