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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Arizona ready for round two vs. Wisconsin

LOS ANGELES — After a year of waiting, The Rematch has come and Arizona men’s basketball is ready.

The No. 2 seed Wildcats (34-3) outlasted No. 6 seed Xavier 68-60 to advance to the Elite Eight for the second year in a row and play No. 1 seed Wisconsin for the second consecutive season.

“It was just a matter of will, to see who ended up winning,” Arizona guard Gabe York said.

The Wildcats, winners of 14 in a row and 20 of their last 21, once again refused to lose, despite struggles against the Musketeers’ 1-3-1 zone.

Xavier had 34 points in the paint while Arizona had 18 and their bench outscored the Wildcats’ 22-14, but the UA had 13 second chance points and XU had eight.

“Our guys competed their tails off,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “We gave one of the best teams in the country everything they wanted and more. And we couldn’t make a couple plays down the stretch.”

The Wildcats held the Musketeers to one field goal in the last nine minutes.

The win not only gets the Wildcats to their second straight Elite Eight, but sets up a rematch with Wisconsin. The Badgers beat the Wildcats 64-63 in overtime last season.

“Just getting to the Elite Eight is a great accomplishment for our team,” York said. “Obviously we wanted to play them but just getting to the Elite Eight is an honor and a privilege and any team that you’re going to play is going to be good.”

Even the normally tight lipped Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell admitted playing the Badgers again is a big deal.

“Obviously, it’s a big game to return to the Elite Eight and play the exact same opponent as we did last year and come up short,” McConnell said. “We’re not making this game any bigger than it needs to be.”

McConnell scored 17 points, 13 in the second half, despite starting the game cold. He also had seven rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal. He also had one turnover the second half after coughing up the ball three times in the first.

McConnell recovered from his struggles to finish with a good night. Obviously the point guard will be important in the Elite Eight.

The UA also won despite forward Stanley Johnson struggling in the second half. He had 10 points in the first period, two in the second.

The Wildcats outrebounded Xavier 15-12 in the second half, after losing the rebounding battle in the first half.

“The big turning point in the game was our rebounding,” Johnson said. “The story of the season for us, when we defend and rebound, it’s hard to beat us.”

Despite foul trouble, Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski got a double-double, 12 points and 12 rebounds and helped limit Xavier center Matt Stainbrook to four less field goals and rebounds in the second half and four more fouls.

“Kaleb is the one guy on our team who doesn’t get enough credit,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “He does his job, is how I would describe him. There aren’t many frontcourt players that can play Stainbrook one-on-one like he did. Now, Stainbrook had his moments, and if you look 17-10 is a great night, but he had one offensive rebound, and one of the strategies for us is we didn’t want him to provide 10 to 20 points for his teammates.”

Tarczewski playing well gives Arizona a better chance to shut down Wisconsin’s two headed monster of forwards Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Kaminsky had 28 points and 11 rebounds against the Wildcats last year and Dekker had 23 points in their win over North Carolina.

Arizona forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said facing Wisconsin again was in the back of their minds when the bracket came out.

When asked how long the 2014 Elite Eight loss stung for, Hollis-Jefferson repeated his response.

“It still does, it still does,” Hollis-Jefferson said.

The Wildcats have been waiting for the Badgers and for the chance to get Miller into his first Final Four.

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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