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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

NCAA Tournament notes: Arizona looks to get Miller over hump

Arizona+guard+TJ+McConnell%2C%26%23160%3Bcenter+left%2C+speaks+while+teammates+Brandon+Ashely%2C+far+left%2C+Kaleb+Tarczewski%2C+center%2C+Rondae+Hollis-Jefferson%2C+center+right%2C+and+Stanley+Johnson%2C+far+right%2C+look+on+during+a+press+conference+in+the+Staples+Center+in+Los+Angeles%2C+Calif.+on+Friday+afternoon.
Rebecca Noble

Arizona guard TJ McConnell, center left, speaks while teammates Brandon Ashely, far left, Kaleb Tarczewski, center, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, center right, and Stanley Johnson, far right, look on during a press conference in the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif. on Friday afternoon.

LOS ANGELES—Getting to the Final Four was the talk of the day from players and coaches alike during the off day press conferences for both No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 1 seed Wisconsin at Staples Center.

Arizona coach Sean Miller has never been to the Final Four despite five total trips to the Elite 8 and is often referenced as one of the better college basketball coaches to never coach in the Final Four.

Numerous Wildcats said getting Miller to the Final Four is a goal they are striving for.

“I think getting to a Final Four with Coach Miller is what we all came here to do,” Arizona forward Stanley Johnson said. “So I know that’s what I got recruited here for.”

On the other side, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan knows exactly what Miller is going through. When the Badgers defeated the Wildcats 64-63 in overtime of last season season’s Elite 8, Ryan went to his first Final Four as a Division-I head coach.

Before last season, Ryan had only reached the Elite 8 once in his 14 years at Wisconsin.

Ryan said it’s unfair to judge coaches solely based on reaching a certain round of the NCAA Tournament like the Final Four.

“We don’t get into this as a profession just to do one certain thing,” Ryan said. “I mean, it’s all about the years and the days and the hours that you spend with these guys doing our job. So there are just so many good people, good teachers, good coaches whatever that didn’t get to the Final Four, Elite Eight or Sweet Sixteen.”

Miller has now taken Arizona to three Elite 8 appearances in his six seasons at the helm and lost the first two appearances by a total of three points. Getting over the hump has been the goal for the Wildcats throughout Miller’s tenure, a fact he reiterated on Friday.

“I knew when I came to Arizona, that’s what we were trying to do, and we’re still trying.” Miller said.


Slipping through the cracks

Despite averaging 34.2 points, 9.1 assists and 8.2 rebounds in his senior year of high school at Chartiers Valley High School in Bridgeville, Penn., T.J. McConnell was lightly recruited and ended up going to Duquesne.

McConnell contributed from the get go, averaging 10.8 points, 4.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds during his true freshman season.

After playing two seasons at Duquesne, he decided to transfer and had his pick of the litter. McConnell narrowed down his list to Virginia and Arizona before choosing the Wildcats.

McConnell said guys of his stature are overlooked all the time.

“Honestly I just think people probably look at me and say ‘that kid can’t play’ or look at another kid at my size and say ‘that kid can’t play, he’s a white guy that’s not athletic’,” McConnell said. “I can hit an open shot but not all the time. I don’t know, I just think it’s the eye test. They see a guy like me or other players like me and say ‘he’s not good enough’.”

Wisconsin players said they felt the same way about some of their guys. Of the Wisconsin starting five, only Sam Dekker was a five-star recruit.

Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser said recruiting rankings are irrelevant, it’s the players desire to “buy in” that means more.

“I mean, rankings, it doesn’t mean much usually, and that’s what I like about this program,” Gasser said. “If you buy into the system, and you buy into the team aspect first, you’re going to get on the court, and you’re going to develop as a player and as a team.”


Freakish athleticism

The Arizona starting five was asked a question during Friday’s press conferences about Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s athleticism. Each player shared their favorite athletic memory for Hollis-Jefferson, before he declined to answer the question himself.

Hollis-Jefferson didn’t stay quiet for long, though.

Later in the press conference, Hollis-Jefferson was asked on what is was like to dunk of 7-foot-6 UC Irvine center Mamadou Ndiaye, who also happens to be his cousin.

“It was definitely a thrill,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “A lot of energy going through my body. I was really amped up, and the celebration was amazing.”

Arizona forward Stanley Johnson said even his teammates aren’t safe from getting dunked on by Hollis-Jefferson.

“I probably would go with one of the practice dunks he had on one of our players on the team,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to say any names, but, yeah, it was my fault letting him go by me in the closeout, and he put somebody in there.”

For as big as that dunk was and as high as Hollis-Jefferson’s leaping ability is, Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski said he’s never been posterized by him in practice, and doesn’t plan on having that happen anytime soon.

“I’m fortunate he hasn’t dunked on me yet in practice, so I’m going to try to keep that going.” Tarczewski said.

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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