LOS ANGELES, CA-The Arizona Wildcats got all they could handle in their Sweet 16 matchup with the Xavier Musketeers. Despite trailing by four in the second half, the Wildcats rallied and won the game by the final of 68-60 at Staples Center Thursday night.
Here are five things we learned.
1. One-Three-Wonder: Arizona has seen more than their share of zones this season as teams would try to neutralize their size and force them to shoot from the outside. Xavier was savvy and went to something a little different. A one-three-one zone. The Wildcats could not get into a flow offensively because of it. There was a lot of passing and standing, spacing was off, Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski all were more passive than we have seen them and were not aggressive attacking the zone. T.J. McConnell was trying to do too much and had four turnovers in the game. “I credit Xavier a lot,” head coach Sean Miller said. “I thought they had a good gameplan…we expected a tough game and that’s exactly what we got.”
2. McConnell’s Up and Down Night: T.J. McConnell was slowly becoming a household name around the country with his play from Pac-12 play through the first weekend of the tournament. He has been playing fantastic leading this talented Wildcat team. But on Thursday night, it was not his night. With the zone being played, the open shots from the perimeter were there for a player who always has the green light. But he couldn’t get them to fall. Pair that with the aforementioned turnovers and McConnell overall was just really off of his game. “I couldn’t throw it on the ocean from the beach from three today,” McConnell said after the game. He was 0-5 to start from three but finally with 4:11 left, knocked down a huge three in route to a huge Arizona 9-1 run. He ultimately turned it around when he was needed most and that is why he is the MVP of this team and one of the most beloved players in Arizona history.
3. Range from York: For the second consecutive game, because of a zone being played against them, the Wildcats needed someone to shoot over it. Once again, Gabe York was up to the task. After a 19 point, five three-point shot made performance against Ohio State, York followed it up with three made against Xavier. Two of which in second half. Who knows what this game would have looked like if York was not there to knock down shots. His play has been critical for the Wildcats offensively in two big games in a row during this Tournament.
4. Knowing Your Role: The Wildcats were reeling and had their backs against the wall about halfway through the second half. But they did what they have done all season that has made them successful when the offense just was not going their way. They rebounded and they defended. Kaleb Tarczewski battled the biggest Uber diver on the planet, 6-10, 265 pound Matt Stainbrook all game and managed to hold him to just one point in the final ten minutes. They also had just two offensive rebounds in the last 12:30. Ashley and Hollis-Jefferson didn’t do as much scoring but their defense and rebounding stepped up as the game rolled along. And Stanley Johnson, not just shooting the ball but being active on the offensive boards late was big. The Wildcats went on a 19-7 run to close out the game and it was all because of each player understanding their role down the stretch and coming through.
5. On (to) Wisconsin: Without outwardly admitting it, the Wildcats win gives them the opportunity to get what they wanted. A rematch in the Elite Eight against the Wisconsin Badgers. The 2014 season ended in overtime heartbreak at the hands of Wisconsin and the players a couple of times over the course of this season have mentioned how much that game hurt. “We had all year to think about Wisconsin,” Miller explained. “Last year’s game could have gone either way. I think they know that.” In order for Arizona to avenge that loss last season and get Miller to his first ever Final Four, it will take a big effort against Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin. Though there a lot of returning players from both teams that will play, this game will look different than it did last season. Brandon Ashley being able to play out on the perimeter against Kaminsky will be a big factor. Both teams had a scare in their Sweet 16 games and both feel they have some unfinished business based on how last season ended for them both. Tip-off will be around 3:09pm on Saturday from Staples Center.