Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
Arizona's Jesse Perry, center, reaches for the ball as he is defended by Colorado's Andre Roberson, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the finals of the Pac-12 conference championship in Los Angeles, Saturday, March 10, 2012. Colorado won 53-51.

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Not long after his team came up just short of securing an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, Arizona coach Sean Miller was asked if he thought the Wildcats would get an at-large berth.

Miller, in typical tell-it-like-it-is fashion, gave a blunt assessment: No.

He was right.

Its credentials hit hard by a loss to Arizona State in the regular-season finale, Arizona was left out of the field of 68 when the NCAA tournament selections were announced Sunday night.

Instead of playing in the NCAA tournament, where they came within seconds of heading the Final Four last season, the Wildcats (23-11) instead will host Bucknell (24-9) in the NIT on Wednesday.

"The loss at Arizona State was very damaging to us late in the season," Miller said Saturday after the championship game of the Pac-12 tournament in Los Angeles.

It pretty much cost the Wildcats a shot at the NCAA tournament.

Arizona had solid credentials heading into its March 4 game against Arizona State: 21 wins and surging at just the right time, winning seven of the previous eight games.

Just needing to get by their rivals to seemingly lock up an at-large bid, the Wildcats fell flat, losing by seven to a team that won just 10 games and hadn't won two in a row until then.

Arizona went on to win two games in the Pac-12 tournament and reached the championship game, where it came up two points short against Colorado.

"We've dealt with a lot of adversity, injuries and off-the-court things that have hurt us," Miller said. "But we found our way to today, and we've won 23 games, and we're really proud of it. But when you come so close, it really hits you."

It was a tough season for the Wildcats.

They were without swingman Kevin Parrom early in the season after he recovered from two gunshot wounds, along with the loss of his mother and grandmother over the summer.

Forward Sidiki Johnson, one of Miller's four touted freshmen, left the team in December, and Parrom was lost for the season with a broken foot. Point guard Jordin Mayes also missed time with a foot injury, and freshman point guard Josiah Turner was suspended twice, most recently just before the Pac-12 tournament.

The Wildcats fought through it all and won 23 games, but it wasn't enough. Now they're headed to the NIT, where they hope to keep playing for at least a few more games.

"I want to fight and get these guys as far as we can," Miller said. "If that's New York City in the Final Four of the NIT, great. But it has everything to do with trying to have a magical season to win as many games and compete for championships. I think we all know our next loss will be our last."