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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona basketball faces Xavier in the Sweet 16

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Rebecca Noble

Arizona men’s basketball guard T.J. McConnell (4) shoots a layup as Ohio State forward Jae’Sean Tate (1) looks on during Arizona’s 73-58 victory in the Round of 32 in the 2015 NCAA Tournament against Ohio State in the Moda Center in Portland, Ore., on Saturday. McConnell and the Wildcats play Xavier in the Sweet Sixteen.

Arizona men’s basketball and Xavier have never met, but the familiar foes face off for a spot in the Elite Eight.

No. 2 seed Arizona (33-3) plays No. 6 seed Xavier (23-13) in the Sweet Sixteen of the West Region. The game will tip off in Staples Center in Los Angeles tonight at 7:17 p.m. MST on TBS.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller led the Musketeers for five seasons before he became the UA’s coach. The current Xavier head coach, Chris Mack, was an assistant coach under Miller from 2004 to 2009.

“Obviously, for me, seeing a lot of friendly faces from a place that is very dear to my heart and unbelievably fond memories, and that is competing against Xavier University,” Miller said. “I think it’s going to be a heck of a basketball game, as is usually the case at this level.”

Miller led Xavier to the NCAA Tournament four times and to the Elite Eight twice. However, XU recovered after Arizona lured Miller away, as the Musketeers have since made it to three Sweet Sixteens.

Miller has led Arizona to four Sweet Sixteens and two Elite Eights.

“Sean’s been instrumental in my career,” Mack said. “He’s always been a mentor, whether it was when I was working for him, with him, or now that he’s a couple thousand miles away. There is not a challenge that I don’t bring to him if I’m struggling with something.”

Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell has some familiarity with Xavier, having played against the Musketeers when he was at Duquesne his first two years in college.

“Well, my experience playing against Xavier hasn’t been good,” McConnell said. “I’m 0-2, and I think the second time I played them, we lost by about 45 points. I know what kind of team they are; they play really hard, and they play with a chip on their shoulder.”

Xavier went 9-9 in the Big East Conference this season, which only had one team survive the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Xavier led the Big East in field goal percentage (.477) and assists (16.3 per game).

Xavier center Matt Stainbrook leads the Musketeers in scoring (12.1 per game) and rebounding (6.9 per game). The senior was a second team All-Big East member and has scored 1,464 points in his collegiate career.

“There isn’t a defense that Matt hasn’t seen,” Mack said. “Teams that really crowd him from the perimeter, teams that trap him with the other post, teams that trap him off the dribble, trap him on the catch.”

However, the Musketeers come to the Sweet Sixteen with another distraction.

The Associated Press reported that another XU student filed a complaint against Xavier forward Jalen Reynolds. He scored a career-high 21 points against Georgia State in the third round.

Mack told cincinnati.com that Reynolds “will be playing just like every other player on our team” while his case is being investigated.

Xavier lost to UTEP 77-73 in Anaheim, Calif., a team Arizona beat 60-55 on the road. XU is 10-7 against the 2015 NCAA Tournament teams, while the UA is 12-0 against the field.

The Musketeers have won five of their last six while the Wildcats have won 13 games in a row.

While the Wildcats are playing in LA, a Pac-12 Conference city with an expected friendly crowd, they said the focus is on winning.

“When I saw the schedule in Los Angeles, it was obviously a goal of mine to get back,” Arizona forward Stanley Johnson said. “But now it’s about Xavier. It would really be bad to come here and take a loss. We’re trying to win games. So it’s not about being at home or anything like that. It’s about winning games.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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