LOS ANGELES, CA-It was a mirror image of a year ago for the Wisconsin Badgers who defeated the Arizona Wildcats 85-78 in southern California, winning their second consecutive West Region Championship against the ‘Cats and advancing to the Final Four next weekend in Indianapolis. It was the first Elite Eight rematch since UCLA and San Francisco squared off back in the 1973-74 tournament.
Here are five things we learned from the game:
1. Blistering Hot Badgers…after trailing 33-30 at the half Bo Ryan’s squad made 15 of their 19 field goals, including an unheard of 10-12 from behind the three-point line to pull away for a seven-point win. “Guys got hot,” Ryan said afterwards. “You don’t shot 79% every day in a half but they were good shots…probably shouldn’t have missed the other four (smiling).” The Badgers motion offense spread UofA’s defense, opening driving lines for kick-outs or high-percentage shots in the paint as the ‘Cats battled foul difficulty from early in the game.
2. Sam I Am…for the second-straight year the ‘Cats had no answer for big man Frank Kaminsky who, despite playing with foul trouble, scored a game-high 29 points. The bigger story may have been 6’9 junior forward Sam Dekker who connected on 8-11 shots (5-6 three’s), 6-7 free throws and finished with 27, including a pair of back-breaking triples down the stretch.
3. It’s (Still) Not Miller Time…Arizona head coach Sean Miller must wait another year to try to break through to his first Final Four. “You lose four times in seven years,” Miller said with a grin. “That’s probably a record, right? It it what it is.” Despite a 34-4 record this season which included a Pac-12 regular season and Pac-12 Tournament Championship, fair or unfair, the whispers will continue in Tucson as the ‘Cats look to get back to their Lute Olson-elite status in March Madness.
4. Catnipped Kitties…hard to imagine Arizona shooting nearly 56% from the field, making 28-30 free throw attempts (93.3%), outrebounding the Badgers, committing just 10 turnovers and losing but that was the case Saturday. “Their second half offense was spectacular, extraordinary,” Miller said. “They deserve the credit for that.” Arizona had five players score in double figures and it still wasn’t enough.
5. On Point…maybe no one individual represents “A Player’s Program” like T.J. McConnell won won nearly 70 games in his two seasons, including zero losses at the McKale Center. The Pennsylvania native and son of a coach scored 14 points and dished out five assists in his final game for the ‘Cats before fouling out in the final seconds. His tearful, raw emotions on the bench are reflective of a player who gave so much, while making others around him better. He had one last embrace with his head coach before the final horn. “I just apologized that I couldn’t get [Coach Miller] to a Final Four,” the still fragile McConnell said. “That guy right there is like my dad.” “Point Guard U” lost another great one.