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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona faces Wisconsin with Final Four berth on the line

Rebecca Noble

Arizona guard TJ McConnell (4) tries to navigate around Xavier center Matt Stainbrook (40) during Arizona’s 68-60 win against Xavier in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament in the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif. on Thursday night.

LOS ANGELES—In the 2002 movie “Spider-Man”, Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben
said the line, “With great power comes great responsibility.” In a rematch of
last season’s Elite Eight matchup between No. 2 Arizona and No. 1 seed Wisconsin, that
saying will hold weight on Saturday at 3:09 p.m. MST.

The Wildcats and Badgers are two of the premier college basketball
programs in the nation and have the talent to get to the Final Four. It comes
down to execution, or lack thereof.

Arizona coach Sean Miller has never been to a Final Four and
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan’s first Final Four appearance came after Wisconsin’s
64-63 overtime win over the Wildcats last season.

“We’re very excited to be here,” Miller said. “It’s obviously a heck of a
story when a year ago we played Wisconsin, at the time we were the No. 1 seed,
they were the No. 2 seed, and here we are again a year later as the reverse: they’re the No. 1 and we’re the No. 2. But I think both programs
kind of have one thing in common, and that is that we have a great core group of
players that have been with us over these last couple of seasons, that have
made both seasons very, very special, and we’re looking forward to the game tomorrow
very much.”

From the players on both teams, either Wisconsin forward
Frank Kaminsky or Arizona guard T.J. McConnell will be playing in their final
collegiate game.

Kaminsky has per game averages of 18.4 points and 8.1
rebounds, and led the Badgers during last season’s Elite Eight performance. He
scored 28 points and hauled in 11 boards to help send Ryan to his first Final

“Looking back at last year, it was just one of those games
where everything was going right for me.” Kaminsky said.

McConnell has per game averages of 10.3 points, 6.3 assists
and 3.9 rebounds, and had his redshirt junior season ended against Wisconsin
last year. He said he remembers most the late offensive foul call against his
former teammate Nick Johnson.

Johnson was called for an offensive foul with three seconds
remaining in overtime of that game.

“The one thing that kind of stood out to me was the call at
the end of the game that they called on Nick Johnson,” McConnell said. “I didn’t
think it was a very good call but you kind of have to live with it.”

While the talk has been on last year’s matchup and all that
transpired, both the Wildcats and Badgers said this is a new season with new
teams. Wisconsin guard Bronson Koening said it’s a different year but there is
still familiarity between the two teams.

“It’s a different year and everything, but it’ll be nice to just
be familiar with their style of play,” Koening said. “Obviously they had Aaron
Gordon and Nick Johnson last year, two really good players, who were replaced
by two great players as well. So it won’t be too much different. It’ll be
another chance for us to battle.”

Along the lines of differences from last season’s matchup,
Arizona forward Brandon Ashley will get to play the Badgers for the first time
after missing the Elite Eight game with an injury.

Ashley is averaging 12.1 points and 5.2 rebounds this season
but has only scored in double-digits once in six tries in NCAA Tournament
action. He said not playing in last year’s game was one of the tougher things
he’s had to endure.

“It was tough to see the game come to such a pivotal point
at the end of the game where we were pretty much down one possession and needed
a bucket, and I couldn’t be out there to help get a tip in or help in the play,”
Ashley said. “But I mean, to be in this position now is a blessing. I’m
definitely looking forward to the opportunity to compete against them [on

Arizona enters the game as a 1.5 point favorite and is
looking for the program’s first Final Four since 2001.

“Last year we could have very easily been in the Final Four,
and Wisconsin could be in our boat, but it didn’t happen, and it was a difference
of about three plays, maybe one play,” Miller said. “So we’re excited about
tomorrow and we’ll see what happens.”


Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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