ANAHEIM, CA–Steve Kerr knows a thing or two about making big plays in big games.
The former University of Arizona All-American guard and five-time NBA Champion saw plenty Thursday night at Honda Center as his alma mater fought back from an ugly first half and held off San Diego State 70-64 to advance to the Elite Eight Saturday in the West Region final against second-seed Wisconsin.
Kerr, who was on the TBS broadcast, said the Aztecs let one slip away.
“I thought San Diego State did everything they needed to do to win the game,” he told Sports360AZ.com. “They dominated the boards…Nick Johnson struggled and Arizona had major foul trouble the whole game. It was all really in place for San Diego State but I think Arizona won because of its defense and that’s kind of been their hallmark all year.”
The Wildcats outscored SDSU 42-32 in the second half and Johnson eventually heated up hitting a key three-pointer late and converting all 10 of his free throws, many coming late in the game as the Aztecs one last push. The Pac-12 Player of the Year finished with 15 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Kerr said these hard-fought games are what usually separates champions from contenders in March Madness.
The task will get no easier Saturday against Bo Ryan’s Badgers who started fast and never looked back in their blowout win of Baylor in the other regional semi-final match-up.
“Wisconsin’s as solid as it gets,” Kerr explained. “They don’t turn it over. They shoot three’s all over the place.”
He said one big matchup to keep a close eye on is in the post between Badgers’ skilled big man Frank Kaminsky who scored 19 points and blocked six Baylor shots and UofA’s Kaleb Tarczewski who was saddled with foul difficultly against SDSU and finished with only one rebound in 20 minutes Thursday.
Kerr believes Miller and the Arizona coaches may throw different looks at the seven-foot junior.
“Maybe Arizona will go smaller at times with [Aaron] Gordon on Kaminsky and use the speed but lot of interesting match-ups but a lot of interesting match-ups across the board.”
The game is scheduled to tip-off at 5:49 Saturday evening here in southern California.